Hong Kong’s oldest institution for higher education, the University of Hong Kong (HKU) has a strategic location in the midst of a vibrant city that is looked upon as the land of opportunities and an international business hub.
The HKU business school serves as a good choice for those looking for a reputed, well-known school nestled in the heart of Asia.
The HKU MBA program has been ranked 29th in the world by the Financial Times in 2021.
With an intimate class of around 50 (54% female) with an average age of 28-29, the class represents around 15 nationalities. The average work experience is 5-6 years.
The tuition fee for the current academic year is HK$588,000.
The employment rate was 90%, with 92% students finding job opportunities in Asia. 75% managed to change job functions, 60% changed job industries while 60% changed job locations.
The top industry destination for post-MBA jobs was financial services (35%), followed by consulting & advisory services (18%), technology (13%) and consumer goods, fashion, retail (13%).
Sameer Kamat, founder of MBA Crystal Ball, is in conversation with Sachin Tipnis who heads the MBA, EMBA Global Asia (joint Executive MBA degree with Columbia and London Business School) and 7 specialized Masters programs at HKU Business School.
MBA Crystal Ball (MCB): What are some of the interesting facts about HKU and the MBA programme that you’d like to share with applicants?
Sachin Tipnis (HKU): The University of Hong Kong (HKU) is actually over a hundred years old. In these hundred years, we have really earned our reputation and recognition.
The fact that we have been able to maintain such an extremely high standard for so many decades essentially says a lot about how extraordinarily strong and well-respected institution it is.
Another interesting fact about HKU is that we are not just a standalone business school which means that we are a very comprehensive university.
This means, our students can gain a lot from this because they are not just confined to business students and community in the campus around HKU, but also get a chance to interact with various departments.
In that way, they can get much more exposure and build their network during the MBA programme.
HKU MBA is one of the most unique programmes in the world. It is a one-year programme.
However, in just one year, you get a very in-depth understanding about Asia, and at the same time, you gain global exposure through our partnership with London Business School and Columbia University.
This programme consists of features such as a strong focus on Asia business with an international perspective and global connectivity.
In addition, HKU MBA is based on a small class size which means that students can receive individualised attention on every aspect, not just the academics but our MBA team knows each student well.
Most importantly, the career services team provides students personalised recommendations and customised advice on career coaching and development, on a one-to-one basis. This is something which prospective students should keep in mind.
In terms of networking at the business school level, besides the full-time MBA programme, we have our part-time MBA, as well as our joint-EMBA programme with London Business School and Colombia Business School.
The HKU Business School also offers specialised master programs. In total, we have more than 3,000 students each year which highlights our school’s robust network and strong alumni community.
Moreover, one remarkable thing about HKU MBA is that we are the most consistently ranked MBA programme. It is true that a lot of people miss out on this point. Usually, most of the schools only put one or two rankings on their website which shows that they are doing well.
On the contrary, when you look at the HKU website for information, you will realise that we are one of the few schools in the world which are featured in all the top rankings with consistent results.
This proves that we are well-regarded because different rankings use various parameters and rating methodologies.
MCB: Apart from the official site, what can international students do to gain more insights into the HKU MBA program and interact on a more personalized basis with the admissions committee and current students?
HKU: Certainly. We. in fact, encourage this practice of prospective students connecting with our current students, alumni and admission committee. This is the best way to know more about the school.
Choosing a school is in a way like matchmaking.
You would choose your school only after taking into consideration what you would gain from the MBA program. Your school choice would be aligned with your personal and career goal. Hence, there is no good or bad school.
It is always about the perfect match and the best way to know more about the school, is to interact with students, admission committee and alumni.
From our side, we encourage prospective students to chat with us one-to-one on Skype. We organise alumni and student sharing every second month. We suggest attending these webinars, admission events and info sessions.
At the same time, we have a system that once you are made an offer, you can request the MBA office to connect you to someone who has a similar background as yours, either alumni or current student.
Then, we will link you up with that person once you get the offer to gain more insights and feedback in advance.
MCB: Explain the various steps involved in the application evaluation process, right from the time the application is received till the final decision is made?
HKU: Our admission is on a rolling basis. Once the applications come in, we start processing and applicants are required to submit their essay and CV.
I would like to reiterate that CV becomes a particularly important part, because MBA is a professional course. Hence, the full-time work experience is of great significance.
Based on their profile we shortlist candidates for interviews. Some may not get the interview invitation because we think their profile does not match what we are looking for or what our programme can offer.
Once the candidates are shortlisted for interview, the process becomes particularly important to us because interview performance is one of the critical elements during the admission process.
At the same time, all candidates must submit the supporting documentation, including transcript, reference letters, GMAT/GRE score.
MCB: What factors should an applicant keep in mind to evaluate if he/she will fit with the program? How can this aspect be demonstrated in the application?
HKU: There are a few things which really help differentiate an applicant from the others. Below are some examples of what we are looking for, and what a prospective student can demonstrate in the application and highlight during the interview.
For instance, if you want to become an entrepreneur, then it is very important that post-MBA you have this idea of starting something on your own. You can look at our curriculum.
We have a specialised entrepreneurship class which is called ‘Business Lab’.
You can find more details from the website and understand how the Business Lab can help students take that little idea and convert it into a proper business plan. It can be properly implemented and pitched to angel investors and PEs, companies and so forth.
If that is what you are looking for, and that is exactly what the programme is offering, you should then be prepared to put this up during your interview or during the application process. This way you can demonstrate a better understanding about the MBA programme.
Another example could be, say, the understanding of China market is very important for you. As a next step, you can refer to our course content and you’ll see that we have an extremely strong China Immersion Programme in which a lot of case studies, connection with senior executives, and various company visits are made, all of which is connected with the Chinese business. You can be rest assured that this programme is a good fit.
Meanwhile, you can also show your passion and interest in any particular subject area by talking about the specific things related to it
This is the best way for an applicant to evaluate whether the programme is a right fit. You will need to identify what your professional goals are by giving examples and connecting them to something specific in the programme.
MCB: With so much variety among the applicant profiles, (roles / industries / countries), how do you evaluate profiles without having a common yardstick? For instance, how would you decide between an Indian IT professional with GMAT 730 and a US finance professional with a 700?
HKU: There are four factors that we take into consideration while reviewing applicant profiles.
When the applications come in, we pay special attention to understanding the local economy to a certain extent, including who the regional and national players are in all these countries.
This gives us a better idea about the applicants’ employment background, their company culture, and how each sector is doing in their country. We take a deep dive and the applications are assessed from multiple perspectives.
That is why the most significant component of our HKU MBA admission would be the interview performance.
The first half of the interview will get into the details about what this person has done, how this person has performed in their company, what is the growth in their sector, what is the level of understanding about their own industry and so on.
This gives us a good idea of who the candidate is.
The second part of the interview focuses on the personality of the candidate. This goes beyond the industry. All these factors come together to decide how we should evaluate a profile.
With that in mind, fundamentally, we look at all the above mentioned four factors. That is how we go about the whole admission decision.
MCB: How many students get scholarships and what’s the typical amount?
HKU: The number of students receiving scholarships varies every year from batch to batch as it depends on the quality of the applicant pool.
The typical scholarship amounts are between 20% to 40% of the total tuition fee depending on different factors. The judgement criteria for scholarships are exactly the same as for the admissions process.
MCB: Does HKU have any tie-ups with financing institutions? How many students take up educational loans with banks and financing companies?
HKU: Unfortunately, we do not. The only option we have is scholarships.
We understand some students do take education loan but then they take it on their own accord from financial institutions in their home country or some financing options from their home-country government.
MCB: Can a high GMAT or GRE score compensate for a low GPA and/or less experience?
HKU: Yes, strengths can complement weaknesses.
For example, you might have a very high GMAT/GRE score, but slightly less work experience. You do excellent in the interview, then this factor definitely compensates for the lower experience.
At HKU MBA, we look at the candidate in a more holistic way. Plus, along with this all-round approach, the aforementioned four factors – education, quality of work experience, GMAT/GRE score and interview are important.
MCB: How much importance do you give to the GMAT Score breakup (verbal vs. quant sections) and the AWA and IR scores?
HKU: In fact, we look at the overall GMAT score. We do not look at the break up.
MCB: Under what conditions do you think applicants should retake the test?
HKU: Let us go back to the four factors we are focusing on. If you are going to use the GMAT or GRE test as a way to compensate for less experience or maybe a low GPA, then you must have a higher GMAT or GRE score.
In that context, if you have a lower score you should retake the test, but if you have a very strong work experience and you are very confident of making a great impression in the interview, then I would say having low GMAT or GRE is still acceptable.
MCB: Do you have any application tips for HKU applicants? Can you share some DO’S and DON’TS for essays and recommendations?
HKU: I will advise the applicant to get to know the programme better. Please read up more about the programme, try to understand the strengths of the programme, try to get a broader perspective on what the HKU MBA is all about.
This will ultimately show in your interview which will also reflect in the kind of questions you ask during the interview. Also, it will lead to a better fit in terms of what you should do in the essays and recommendations.
Make sure that the Statement of Reference is done by someone who can really evaluate you. Please do not ask your friends to give references. It should be written by somebody who is able to judge you on a professional or academic basis.
Again, I have to emphasise one important point – please do not ask friends or relatives of yours to write the reference letter.
Regarding the HKU MBA essay, please try to connect certain aspects of the programme with your professional goals.
MCB: There is no scholarship essay. What are the factors you consider for arriving at scholarship decisions?
HKU: Correct, we do not have a scholarship essay because we have enough information through the regular application process, including the CV and the interview.
As a general practice, we conduct interview for every candidate we admit as it gives us a chance for communication and interaction with the candidate.
Basically, for scholarships too, the aspects that matter during admissions are considered: previous education background, quality of work experience, GMAT or GRE score, and the interview performance.
MCB: Like test prep companies, admissions consultants have become an integral part in the admissions process for a large number of applicants. How do you view their involvement? What are some of the acceptable and unacceptable practices that candidates should be aware of?
HKU: Throughout the admission process, a lot of students go to admission consultants and that is why we ourselves give as much information as possible to all the admission consultants around the world. It is because we want the students to get all the relevant information.
As I said earlier that it is really about the right fit. There is no good or bad school. It is all about the match.
That is why we believe that admission consultants can play a positive role in matching students with the school.
The more the admission consultants know about every school, the more information they can provide to the students.
Since they get to understand what goals the student wants to achieve, why they are doing an MBA, what their expectation is from the school, they can help candidates connect with the school that is a good match for their profile. So, they can play a very constructive role in this whole process.
MCB: How can applicants draw the line between being over-eager to please and coming across as being less than enthusiastic?
HKU: In my opinion, the candidate should think of it as a job interview, where the interviewer would like to get to know the applicant. Applicants would also try to understand if there’s a match, between the requirement of the job and their skillsets.
The admission committee would do the same.
When they are conducting the interview, they are assessing the candidate, not just as a student, but as a professional.
Do not act overly eager and do not show an unenthusiastic attitude either, rather find the best way to balance it.
When you go for a job interview, you have to pay attention to your dressing style, the way you conduct the interview, and the tone you answer the questions. You also need to show your understanding of the requirement of the job.
On similar lines, in an MBA interview, you have to illustrate why you are doing your MBA, what your strengths are and what you are offering and contributing to the MBA programme.
You do not have to be too eager to please, nor show a very dull personality. Manage that balance in a professional manner.
MCB: What are some of the unique courses and learning methodologies adopted in the HKU full-time MBA program?
HKU: The HKU MBA programme adopts an experiential case-based learning approach. That’s why we give a lot of emphasis to the extensive use of business cases published by our renowned Asia Case Research Centre (ACRC).
One of the distinctive advantages about HKU MBA is that for every class, you have case studies. This means you have group projects and activities.
The learning process is not just an individual one, but includes small group work as well as larger group discussion. In every class, all MBA students have to present in front of their classmates.
This way, they really are able to develop their capability in multi-dimensional ways:
This three-stage learning is very unique, in which it starts at the individual level when the professor teaches them the concepts, then comes the small group level when they are actually discussing the case, and finally the large group level when they present their findings to the class and the whole class then gets into the discussion.
In terms of unique courses, we do have certain subjects which focus on Asia business.
I think this is distinctive because most of the schools do not have courses with particular focus on either emerging markets or specifically the Asia region.
This is another special aspect about us. We make sure that our students get good exposure to both the new emerging markets and western markets.
MCB: Can you share some new initiatives to keep the curriculum relevant and in sync with the changing times?
HKU: Certainly, business is getting increasingly more complex in today’s time. Hence, we want to make sure that we have an adequate platform so that all kinds of concepts are well-covered and delivered.
Under this initiative, MBA students can even learn coding in languages like Python. In addition, we have an incubation programme called “Business Lab” to experiment your own business idea from scratch until the launch.
We support our students to interact with entrepreneurs, industry leaders, and start-ups so that they can also have their own businesses.
Most importantly, we reach out to all our recruiting partners across different sectors and industries in various regions. We communicate with our HR partners, business heads, and senior executives. Based on their feedback every year, we make adjustments to our curriculum.
For example, a lot of recruiters and business managers have repeatedly told us the importance of not just providing students with technical knowledge but also developing their soft skills, such as knowledge of interacting professionally with people from different cultures and backgrounds, team management and leadership.
That way, we organise workshops as well as incorporate these into our curriculum, so that it becomes an integral part of the programme. These are some of the adjustments we make every year to ensure that we are aligned with the changing times.
MCB: Can you provide some information about the MBA track? How does it work? How can students make the most of this opportunity?
HKU: The MBA track basically involves going to London Business School, Columbia Business School, or to Fudan University in Mainland China. These tracks are an integral part of the HKU programme. The whole idea is to provide students with additional exposure and network on a global level.
It is not an exchange programme, and that is indeed the greatest part about it. When our students apply for HKU MBA, they can tell us right at the start which track they prefer:
That means when they get the admission offer, they know which school to go to. When they start their MBA study, they do not have to bother about the exchange.
Only a few top schools offer international study tracks. In most of the schools, they usually send a visiting professor to give guest lectures.
However, in our case, we have two world renowned schools and one of the most prestigious schools in China. That way, all our students get an opportunity to go to the top schools.
We genuinely believe that after the first nine months in Hong Kong where they get to know Asia, and the regional focus, it is a tremendous opportunity for our students to understand how the global economy is working.
It is because the local trades and national financial integrations around the globe are deeply intertwined. We want to make sure that our students are global citizens and they understand international business. That’s the importance and relevance of these tracks.
MCB: In what ways were international students affected by the recent protests in Hong Kong? What’s the status now?
HKU: We all know that Hong Kong is very stable. I would like to stress that it was just a passing phase like all other countries go through.
In fact, Hong Kong is absolutely on a growth trajectory so even during the peak of the unrest, we all had our classes as well as the recruitment process going on.
Therefore, there was no major impact on our international students at all.
Our recent employment report shows that 85% to 90% of our students from the last graduating batch secured job offers within the first three months after graduation. This definitely indicates that our international students were not affected or impacted by the situation at all.
Now Hong Kong is absolutely back to normal. We do believe that the future status will be on similar lines.
MCB: The employment report shows 35% of post-MBA jobs were secured in the financial service industry. What makes it the top choice for HKU students? Which are the top recruiting companies and what are the typical job roles and salary range?
HKU: Hong Kong is an international financial centre, which has enjoyed a long history as a sought-after career destination for bright young talent. The financial services industry is enormous, with a wide range of opportunities, positions and environments open to MBA students.
The dynamic character of this industry creates an opportunity-laden landscape when it comes to advancement and lucrative compensation – making the financial services industry particularly promising for aspiring graduates.
However, we also have more students who are open to good consulting roles, especially in financial advisory, digital transformation and fin-tech roles.
Top recruiting companies in the financial services industry include J.P.Morgan, HSBC, DBS, Moody’s and some recent graduates have also joined Chinese financial institutions such as CICC, CMS and CITIC Capital, etc. The usual MBA entry role is at the associate level and the remuneration package is highly attractive.
MCB: How does the school help students identify, understand and pursue the right career opportunities?
HKU: Throughout the MBA journey, the Career Development & Training (CDT) team works closely with each student to identify, understand his or her goal and career aspirations. A career manager will be assigned to regularly meet and support each student to discuss suitable career opportunities.
To make the job search path easier for our students, the CDT team strives to equip students for success within a competitive global marketplace.
The team provides regular one-to-one career meetings and executive coaching sessions, and arranges on-campus company presentation with some promising leadership programmes, internship and/ or job opportunities offered by our top employers and recruiting partners.
On the other hand, the CDT team also works closely with companies in meeting their recruitment needs by providing a candidate profile book, on-campus company presentations, and candidate search and nominations, etc.
For example, the CDT team nominated six students and prepared them for the interview rounds of J.P. Morgan – 2021 Wealth Management MBA Banker Summer Associate Programme and three students have received this offer in Hong Kong.
The team also arranged an opportunity for one student to work on a real-world regulatory project with direct access to the senior executive of the organisation creating a truly enriching experience. The project helped our student develop a sound understanding of a regulatory role in the financial realm.
Last but not the least, the team assisted another student get an internship experience in one top tier consulting company which helped the student garner invaluable hands-on experience as a consultant in real life – meeting, managing and delivering on client expectations in a dynamic environment.
MCB: How many graduates manage to switch their careers – meaning industry and/or function? How does the school help in such transitions?
75% of our students have a change in job functions upon completing their MBA.
The CDT team works closely with the students throughout their MBA journey to provide career advice and guidance, enhancing their professional and personal skills and equipping them with network connections to relevant corporate and recruitment partners.
The CDT team consist of seasoned professionals experienced in career coaching and employer engagement, enabling students to realise their unique career visions throughout their journey.
The CDT team offers a wide range of activities for students, including professional development workshops, company visits, leadership talks, and a mentorship programme.
These activities help students, especially those wanting to change job functions to engage with prospective employers, and gain new industry insights from their mentors and senior executives within their preferred industry.
For example, our mentorship programme connects current students to high-level professionals/ top business leaders so that our students can obtain real-life business/industry knowledge from senior executives.
The real case sharing and professional insights from our experienced mentors offer students an engaging and enriching learning experience that is crucial in their career transitions in a new work environment.
MCB: How is the bschool helping students adapt and cope with the COVID-19 situation?
HKU: Mainly through the Hybrid option. All classes, L&D workshops, leadership skills, and company information sessions are provided both in-person and online.
In addition, we provide workshops dedicated to help students engage in interactive sessions on topics relating to how to adapt to COVID-19. This includes alumni panel discussion on the effects of COVID-19 on the job market, and a workshop on how to manage stress in times of change in the corporate world.
Despite the limitations due to COVID-19 on physical company visits, the CDT team were still able to actively arrange many leadership sharing sessions and company talks during our virtual treks with various corporate leaders and partners, providing students the same opportunity to engage and expand their network.
The students were especially happy about these eye-opening opportunities to experience companies operated in GBA, Mainland China and Singapore from different perspectives.
MCB: How easy / difficult is it for international students to get a work visa in Hong Kong? How many international students manage to secure a job in Hong Kong?
HKU: During the school year, international students are able to engage in curriculum-related work and summer internships, provided that the internships are endorsed by the university.
Upon graduation, students can apply for an IANG visa, which allows the students to stay in Hong Kong for 12 months without other conditions of stay provided that normal immigration requirements are met. This visa is further extended if the student secures the job within 12 months.
This gives the flexibility to students to begin employment with their prospective employer quickly, without going through the process of obtaining a work visa.
Our class of 2019 and 2020 had a 90% employment rate, and 90% of our students secured jobs in Asia. (More placement statistics here)
MCB: Are there any exciting plans in the pipeline for HKU and the MBA program over the next few years that you would like applicants to know?
HKU: We are making enhancements to our curriculum to reflect the changing landscape. Courses, which cover digital/tech space, will be increased along with emphasis on leadership component.
We are also planning to include ESG related topics throughout the curriculum, and further strengthen our regional focus by including more cases related to Asia and emerging markets.
One of the unique changes to the curriculum we envision is to bring in development of soft skills and certain technical skills within the premise of core offering to better align with the requirements of the corporate world.
We plan to partner with professional services organizations to provide certifications for these key soft skills, which are critical to be future ready.
We are also collaborating with leading entrepreneurship accelerator to provide our students a platform for incubating new ideas and ventures. We hope this leads to exciting start-ups coming out of this partnership and bringing our entrepreneur community together.
With the formation of alumni chapters around nearly 20 locations around the world, we are enhancing our engagement with our alumni community.
We will be also launching the revamped “buddy program”, wherein a large number of our alumnus have signed up to provide advice to our students on matters related to MBA journey including course selections, studies, time management, career advice, corporate connections etc.
We are further increasing the scope of our student clubs, so that both alumni and our part-time MBA for executives students, can also play a very important role for better connections within our entire community. More courses for life-long learning will be opened for our alumni community so that they can continue to enroll in MBA classes even after their graduation.
HKU Business School will be moving into a brand new state of art new campus in 2023, which is located just 10 minutes away from the central business district giving our students easy access to the corporate sector and providing them fantastic facilities.
We are also opening centres around the world to better engage internationally and expand our presence around the world. This will further enhance the reach of the School and give our students and alumni access to these centres around the world.
To keep evolving is very much the core premise on how we have in very short period become a leading School in Asia and beyond.