CityU DBA - Doctor of Business Administration

12 January 2022

Prof Muammer Ozer, DBA Programme Director, was featured in SCMP Professional Education Guidebook

Any postgraduate business programme designed for ambitious senior executives must continuously adapt and evolve. That is essential to keep pace with the impact of new technologies and how they are reshaping both thinking and practice in established industries and start-up enterprises around the world.

The ability to move with the times, though, has also been important in other ways over the last couple of years. With the strictures of Covid-19 disrupting normal academic routines, it has been necessary for many DBA (Doctor of Business Administration) candidates to switch to online seminars and distance learning.

While initially unexpected, the change directly reflected what was happening in the wider world of business and, as such, gave fresh insights into how quickly certain innovations can catch on and how dispersed management teams might operate in future.

With hindsight, it is clear the experience has also opened up new areas for potential study and reinforced the fact that course content and teaching methodologies can never afford to stand still.

“Our programme has evolved very significantly since it was first introduced in 2006,” says Professor Muammer Ozer, DBA programme director at City University of Hong Kong’s (CityU) College of Business. “We focus on solving important business problems, so the type of research our students do has changed as the problems facing businesses have changed. For example, recent thesis projects have dealt with areas such as big data, fintech, data security and China’s Belt and Road Initiative. These topics were unknown when we began.”

Consistently ranked highly in various international surveys, the CityU DBA is specifically designed for senior executives who want to engage in rigorous research on a topic which has practical business implications and, ideally, can also make an impact on society at large.

“To ensure quality and one-on-one personal attention, we limit the number for each yearly intake,” Ozer says. “For this programme, we mainly teach how to do effective research in a given field, so that students can gain an in-depth understanding of their chosen area and have the skills needed to complete an original thesis.”

In normal circumstances, the required core units taken in the first year or so include residential and research workshops. These largely concentrate on the techniques needed to identify sources, collect and assess data, conduct surveys, interview experts and review the relevant academic literature.

Alongside that, there is also an extensive list of electives which can be chosen depending on each student’s area of research or general interests. The electives are a chance to get up to date on newer or fast-changing subjects, broaden one’s scope, and refine ideas before finalising the topic and broad outline for a thesis proposal.

“Of course, the topics we approve change from year to year,” Ozer says. “But we have world-renowned professors with extensive global expertise and in-depth China knowledge. They can offer the necessary supervision and support for what is always a diverse group of students.”

Applicants for the DBA programme, he notes, are successful business leaders in their own right. They have a passion for solving complicated issues, which go well beyond the boundaries of their own organisations. And the rigorous training and experience they gain has a long-lasting impact on their careers and other aspects of their lives.

“Achieving the right mix of students is always a challenge,” Ozer says. “Because we are most concerned about quality, we focus on selecting people from different backgrounds and with different interests. This helps to maximise the opportunities for productive discussions and the exchange of ideas.”

A typical intake includes applicants in sectors ranging from banking and IT to government service. Most have 20-plus years of professional experience, and have reached chief executive or director level or the equivalent. Many have previously completed an MBA or EMBA and, in recent times, the class has seen representatives from more than 20 different countries.

“The research our students generate usually contributes to the universal body of knowledge,” Ozer says. “Because the work done is highly practical, rather than purely academic, businesses can apply the findings and recommendations in their own sphere of operations. Also, other researchers around the world can subsequently make use of what is produced here and then build on it in their own way to achieve further advances.”

The CityU DBA can be completed in three years, but a certain amount of flexibility is allowed since graduate students are generally working full-time and studying part-time. Also, by its very nature, research is an open-ended process, meaning the quest for confirmed results or conclusions may well take longer than initially expected.

“Everyone follows a different path with the design, research and data analysis stages,” Ozer says. “Students need to establish their domain, have a suitable model or framework, set out their theory, and then decide what kind of objective data to collect and analyse to verify that theory.”

To ensure things stay on track, there are regular meetings with supervisors and monthly workshops with fellow students which provide a forum to air problems, discuss challenges, and test out theories in an informal setting.

Understandably, some of these get-togethers – along with coursework classes and workshops – have convened online since Covid-19 struck, but fortunately the change of format has proved no major obstacle.

“We adopted online teaching and learning as early as February 2020, which allowed people based overseas to be part of our classroom sessions,” Ozer says. “However, as much as the regulations allow, we have continued to conduct individual consultations face-to-face because we emphasise that kind of interaction.”

Looking ahead, he notes, one objective is to restart academic and social events which involve DBA graduates, many of whom are keen to share their experience as advisers and mentors or simply to maintain close links with the university.

“Because our programme has been very successful, we do not intend to make any major structural changes,” Ozer says. “However, we do constantly monitor the academic literature and changes in business practice and continuously update our courses. Input from the alumni network helps us to do that.”

Source and extracted from: