Maurice Tse is associate dean of MBA and EMBA programs at the University of Hong Kong (HKU) Faculty of Business and Economics. He spoke with China Economic Review about who applies to the HKU MBA program, what they get out of it, and where they go after.
Q: How has the economic downturn affected applications?
A: Despite the economic downturn, we’ve seen a surge in demand in the past two years, particularly from within the East Asia region – Korea, Japan, Malaysia and even Vietnam. These are students that used to look only at business schools in the US and Europe, but now I think they realize that the engine of the global economic growth is coming from China and India.
Q: What is the demographic makeup of your students?
A: Those from China and India make up about a third of the student body. The remaining two-thirds come from all over the world – and that’s important because we’ve definitely seen a trend in diversification over the last couple years. To put some numbers on it, two years ago we had 390 students apply from outside China and Hong Kong. Last year that number rose to 580. We’ve seen a lot of new demand from the US and Europe.
Q: What makes a successful applicant?
A: First you need to have some work experience. We require three years, but the average is more – students from China usually have three to four years, in the US it’s usually four years, in Europe about six to eight. Of course GMAT scores, GPA and the personal essay are all important, but even more than other schools we focus on communication. We try to do face-to-face interviews whenever possible. We have some applicants with very high GPAs and GMAT scores, but if they can’t communicate well, they’re not going to cut it.
Q: What is this work experience? What sectors are students coming from?
A: They come from everywhere. I’d say finance is slightly over-represented proportionally, but beyond that – IT, advertising, sales – you name it and we get applicants.
Q: Why would they come to school in Hong Kong over, say, the US or Europe?
A: I think a lot of them want to know more about doing business in China and Asia. Hong Kong is a nice place in this respect – it’s very close to China, but is also one of the most open economies in the world. The students want a global experience. The old way of thinking was that you could somehow get an international education by staying in one school. The new way of thinking is that you have to experience many different economic centers of gravity. That’s why we started exchange programs with schools in New York and London, and really encourage our students to get that experience.
Q: What is the job market for MBA graduates like? What sectors are they going into?
A: It’s interesting – the demand in China is stronger than elsewhere, but it is concentrated in specific fields. About a fifth of our graduates go into finance. We’ve seen a big drop in demand for investment bankers in the past couple years, but private equity, corporate finance and wealth management have boomed. Another one fifth to one sixth of graduates go into consulting. In that field, we’ve seen very little hiring from large consulting firms – most of which are downsizing at the moment – but a spike in regional medium-sized and boutique consultancies.
Q: So why an MBA? At the end of the day, is it worth it?
A: Yes, absolutely. But knowledge isn’t necessarily the main objective. People pursue MBAs because they don’t want to be a square in a round hole, and get stuck in a career they later realize isn’t right for them. In our MBA program we put a lot of effort into helping students figure out exactly what their personal development and career goals are, and what they hope to get out of a future job. It’s more about the self-awareness than any specific skill set.