CityU DBA - Doctor of Business Administration

14 Mar 2014

CityU DBA nurtures leaders with ‘spiral learning’ process

 Andrea Zavadszky

After ten or twenty years on the job, many executives find that certain questions or problems they have faced for some time concerning their company or industry keep bothering them, but they cannot find a solution.

An MBA or EMBA is too general to answer their complex business questions, but a research-focused PhD programme is too academic to consider.

Therefore, the City University of Hong Kong’s (CityU) Doctor of Business Administration (DBA) has been set up for exactly this reason. It is designed to assist high-ranking executives who find that no set solutions are available. With this programme, they do the research to find an answer to their own questions.

“The CityU DBA programme is for senior business leaders who want to study a topic in-depth. In terms of quality and methodology, it is the same as a PhD programme, but the topic is more applied and practical,” says Professor Muammer Ozer, director of the DBA programme at CityU’s College of Business.

Applicants have an average of 20 years’ work experience and come with a predetermined research question they wish to answer.

“They have a burning desire to research a topic in more detail. They are very motivated and eager to solve the problem,” says Prof Ozer, who takes obvious pleasure in working with dedicated and interesting students, who bring determination and extensive experience to the table.

Past research topics have included how to make the RMB more international, ways to conduct business successfully in Africa, building new brands in a specific industry, and how private equity firms can turn a company around in a few years and then sell it. A Thai student did research on helping Thai street vendors improve their business and a student who commutes regularly from Beijing is looking into models for successful commercial real estate investments to avoid past mistakes.

“The drop-out rate is very low because the participants are so motivated,” Prof Ozer says.

Classes are kept small, so the university can offer one-on-one supervision by full professors or associate professors with relevant experience.

A master’s degree is required, but the programme can offer exemptions in exceptional cases. Acceptance depends on career, position, company, education, research topic, interest and motivation. When admitting students, diversity is also an objective, to ensure all kinds of industries are represented.

Students can transfer credits from recent graduate-level study programmes or take additional credit-bearing courses depending on their research needs.

The programme has already attracted participants from 14 different countries.

“Although we offer a similar programme in China in partnership with Fudan University taught in Putonghua, we have had several mainland students who commuted to Hong Kong to enjoy the international environment here,” Prof Ozer says.

DBA’s “Spiral Learning” process starts from the day of application, as candidates have to write a research statement, giving serious thought to what they want to achieve. This statement will be revisited after later discussions with a personal mentor. Particular research topics should take in wider aspects of the relevant industry and make some contribution to the sector and society as a whole.

The programme starts with a three-day residential workshop where, during the orientation, participants hear from students at different stages of their studies and social programmes.

In the first two years, there are taught classes with three core courses and electives depending on the specialisation. These are held once a month over a weekend, making it easier for busy executives and those who commute from outside Hong Kong to manage their time.

“In just three months, the structure of the research is usually established, and the research process keeps spiralling up,” Prof Ozer says.

Students then write the final research proposal and, if it is accepted, they can press ahead. To prevent anyone getting off track, supervisors are on hand, and students also meet regularly to discuss any problems they are facing and support each other.

“Their research results will have an immediate impact on their job and, if they know the research process, they can reapply it to any other research question that they might have in future,” Prof Ozer says. As participants come from major companies and have many years’ experience, they also form a good network which is mutually beneficial.