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MBA competes with specialised postgrad programmes through AI

Providers now offer blockchain, ESG investing, and double degree programmes.

Master of Business Administration (MBA) providers are facing increased competition with specialised postgraduate programmes and online courses. From 2020 to 2021, the trend was online MBA; and in 2022, providers were challenged to integrate specialised courses and AI to hone the skills of future business leaders.

Despite facing increased competition, MBA providers were able to overcome the challenges as reflected in this year’s Hong Kong Business’ MBA rankings, which saw an overall increase of 24% in the total number of students enrolled in the participating schools—from 1,090 in 2021 to 1,354 in 2022.

In the rankings, Hong Kong University (HKU) MBA remains the titleholder for the largest MBA programme, with 465 students enrolled in 2022 compared with 315 students in 2021.

Next in rank are the Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK) MBA in Finance at second and CUHK MBA at third with 317 and 166 enrolled students, respectively. 

The new addition, Hong Kong Baptist University MBA takes fourth place with 121 enrolled students in 2022, followed by CityU MBA with 115 students in 2022 from 110 students in 2021.

Education advancements

In Hong Kong, MBA competes with more specialised taught postgraduate programmes, such as Masters in Finance or Business Analytics, Fine Leung, MBA programme director at The Hong Kong Polytechnic University (PolyU), told Hong Kong Business.

“Students might feel that they can get immediate benefits from these specialised postgraduate programmes in their career,” Leung said.

“Some of these programmes also have lower bars in terms of admission requirements. For example, some of them don’t require work experience,” added Leung.

Another factor to be acknowledged is the emergence of online programmes and other online course providers such as Coursera. 

But in comparison to specialised postgraduate programmes, the MBA programmes are competitive as they can “better prepare students in advancing to top management roles,” Leung maintained.

As opposed to online courses, Leung said MBA offers experiential learning such as in-person networking events or professional development opportunities that online programmes do not have. In addition, PolyU’s MBA programme includes advanced technological elements in its curriculum such as blockchain, cloud computing, data science, and AI.

AI in the mix

Sachin Tipnis, senior executive director of HKU Business School, said one of the challenges they have to face is ChatGPT, the well-known AI chatbot that others receive whilst others do not. 

He admitted that this development is still being studied but highlighted that they are willing to adapt to changes in technology by carefully studying it.

“Because [ChatGPT] challenges the way probably the assignments are done and maybe the examinations are done. The information is easily available now so this is something which we need to work with,” Tipnis told Hong Kong Business.

“But my general thought process is that we need to embrace technology because it's very important to work within this premise otherwise, we cannot evolve,” added Tipnis.

Dual courses and ‘real exposure’

Professor Wan Wongsunwai, associate dean of MBA programmes at CUHK, said their provider is not only the oldest school in the market and the first to offer an MBA degree in Hong Kong and the region, but also offers dual MBA and Juris Doctor opportunities as well as other flexible and exclusive double degree opportunities.

"We have several students every year taking MBA JD, either in this order or the reverse. We have all these different and flexible options available to students,” said Wongsunwai.

Another MBA option is the MBA Plus scheme which allows students to register in another master’s programme at CUHK Business School immediately after completing an MBA.

“We have introduced the [MBA Plus scheme] to meet job recruiter’s expectations about specialised knowledge. This makes it possible for MBA students to supplement their MBA education by signing up or enrolling in a master’s in finance, accounting, marketing, business analytics, information and technology management, etc. thus earning two degrees whilst benefiting from substantial savings in both time and money,” said Wongsunwai.

Tipnis said they opened centres in Tel Aviv, Israel, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, and Beijing and Shenzhen to give students “real exposure” to knowledge and developments in these areas. For example, Israel’s status as the hub for startups is linked to top-level technology. This strategy stemmed from the changing demand for new jobs in the market.

“In terms of the kind of workshops we are putting in place, we realised the importance of soft skills but it has even got more enhanced in the market. That’s why we had to put in more resources to ensure that our students get the best results for enhancing their soft skills,” Tipnis said.

Quality comes with a price

Education is not immune to inflation, so providers had to raise their minimum fees to elevate teaching staff and research capabilities.

In CUHK, pursuing excellent teachers and boosting research comes with a cost. Although their minimum fees stayed the same for CUHK MBA, which is still at HK$560,000 (about US$4.4m).

“None of these things come cheap. Having excellent teachers is constantly having the ability to continuously keep on the leading edge of knowledge creation, and knowledge dissemination,”  Wongsunwai stressed.

It is noteworthy that CUHK still offers scholarships and tuition assistance programmes to mitigate cost pressures for those who lack financial resources.

“We also try to understand the applicant’s motivation and try to see if we as a programme indeed can help them in their aspirations. If we find that there is a good fit and we can certainly do good to society by providing these good and excellent applicants with the right educational training,” said Wongsunwai.

PolyU’s Leung said the cost of attracting high-calibre faculty in MBA education is increasing. The school’s administrative costs for updating curriculum and offering diverse enrichment experiences also raised student fees.

HKU’s Tipnis said they mitigate inflationary pressures by negotiating with coaching firms and moving some of their resources online.

“A lot of tech had to be bought for classrooms and classrooms had to be upgraded so it did require a certain cost, but we were able to manage it well. We are not hit too much by what’s happening in terms of the inflation and the cost as such,” said Tipnis.

China reopening effect

Of China loosening its restrictions may benefit business schools in Hong Kong, especially in drawing in alumni.

For PolyU’s Leung and CUHK’s Wongsunwai, they foresee the number of applications from China for MBA enrollment picking up.  

Leung said Hong Kong’s status as an international financial hub and its government support for new domains such as Web3 applications and financial technology will attract people, not just from China, to study in the market.

For HKU’s Tipnis, the number of applications may increase but not dramatically. Hong Kong, though, has always been a comfortable location for mainland Chinese.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, students located in China were allowed to take online courses from foreign universities. However, in late January 2023, the Chinese Ministry of Education announced that it would no longer recognise overseas degrees obtained through online learning. 

CUHK’s Wongsunwai said the rule does not affect them as their default teaching mode has always been in-person to provide the optimal experiential learning experience.

With these challenges, Hong Kong’s MBA schools allow their curriculum to evolve to ensure their students are up to speed with the latest employment demands.

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