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How Is Artificial Intelligence Disrupting Business Education In China?

Artificial Intelligence is here and it's disrupting the Chinese economy. CUHK Business School's Dr Frank Ng explains how MBA students can take advantage


Mon Dec 31 2018

In 2016, the International Federation of Robots reported that China had set a new record, by installing 87,000 industrial robots in a single year. This number then increased by 58% in 2017—nearly double the global demand that year—and the country currently has the highest operational stock of robots in the world.

This growing appetite for an automated workforce in China is feeding anxieties about how to build a career in the country, as it marks a significant change in the way that the Chinese market works.


“Conventionally, we have said that Chinese economic growth depends on our labor-intensive workforce,” says Dr Frank Ng, a lecturer in the department of management at Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK) Business School. “This will change now we’re trying to shift to automation.”

According to Frank, the probable reason for the shift is the increased cost of labor in a declining workforce, as the aging population in China depletes the number of workers. Industries with poor or dangerous working conditions are also increasingly finding that employees are reluctant to take on the risk, and so turn to machines to get the job done.

Which industries will be affected—and how?

In this landscape, where automation is cheaper, more precise, and more reliable than the much of the same work conducted by humans, it is clear that careers are going to undergo change, particularly in China.

In fact, Frank stresses that it’s not only so-called ‘low-end’, manual labor tasks that will be outmoded by machines, but also basic analytical processes. Accounting, for example, he predicts will be taken over by Artificial Intelligence (AI) in the near future.

However, this doesn’t necessarily spell disaster for MBAs looking to create careers in Asia, or around the world.

“Certainly, many jobs will be replaced by robots, but at the same time, automation will create many new professions as well,” Frank explains.

“There are some industries that can actually benefit from automation—for example, some jobs require operations robots, which themselves will require maintenance and software development.”

Tech-savvy MBAs, then, will see a surge in demand under automation, but Frank stresses that the changes will be widely-felt across industries.

 “Students have got to be prepared to change their careers during their lifetime,” he says, “and sometimes even their working location.”

What these changes demand from managers

And how will management change in this brave new world? After all, managing a largely automated workforce will present a different roster of challenges to a human company, and it must change how management is taught at CUHK Business School.

As far as Frank can see, many of the requirements of managers will still be the same, because they will need to manage the people who maintain the machines.

However, some things will have to change—among them, the criteria with which employees’ performance is evaluated.

“Usually, when we evaluate employees, we are concerned with their productivity and efficiency,” he explains. “But where automation is concerned, robots monitor these issues already—that will change our considerations to how we collaborate with other employees in the company, and how managers handle issues that cannot be replaced by robots.”

A uniquely human skillset

Soft skills like negotiation and creativity, then, are an area that Frank believes machines can’t penetrate, and why teaching the minutiae of technological change is less important to Frank than a firm grasp of necessary management skills.

“Nowadays, technology is changing rapidly and everything can change and be useless within decades,” he explains. “To help MBA students prepare for this world, we have to give them more value-added knowledge that’s less likely to be replaced by automation.”

This ethos defines the attitude to technology on the CUHK Business School MBA, where technological advancement is always contextualized with actual business problems and solutions, for example through organized talks from CEOs and influential alumni.

“These guest speakers’ valuable sharing of experiences can help students get to know what the latest trends are, but also how to seize the opportunities involved, and not simply provide technological knowledge,” says Frank.

The program aims to provide exposure to technology without getting too tethered to the specifics, so that students can learn how to weather the changes and not get mired in the details.

For example, the ‘Management in Action’ course sees MBAs split into teams of five, in which they each take on the role of someone in a small startup-type company.

In these positions, they role-play different challenges that company might face, taking cues from the real business challenges they see going on all around them, and learn to think creatively in order to solve issues and negotiate.

This, for Frank, is the key to unlocking a future in an automated China—and the reason why an MBA still offers a clear route forward.

Student Reviews






One of a kind

I studied Bioinformatics at CUHK last year. It was the only Master's degree in Hong Kong in this field. This program developed my analytical skills and equipped me to be a Bioinformatician in a very practical way. I enjoyed my year here and met classmates from different parts of the world. If you are thinking to enhance your profile, this degree program would be a good option.




On Campus

general education courses, unique college system, large campus

The university facilitates multi-dimension and interdisciplinary learning. In social science faculty, we need to choose courses as our faculty package from other departments (architecture, psychology, sociology, etc.) to learn more than our major required courses. We are also required to finish general education courses, which aid our critical thinking and humanistic sensibilities. I do recommend the social science broad-based program, and the professors I met so far are all responsible and erudite.





The faculty of law is relatively new. You do not need to have a LLB to pursue a LLM, which is special. The taught programme is great for mature students who want to obtain legal knowledge. CUHK has good teaching staff too.




Amazing Campus and Great Educational Environment

Not only is CUHK's main campus breathtaking, it provides for a good educational environment for students. The university is well-equipped with modern and up-to-date facilities to help students with their study. We have 8 libraries in total around the campus; one for media, one for architectural studies, the medical library and the law library. The Professors are always helpful and are happy to talk to students when needed. Moreover, the college system within the university brings forth the uniqueness of CUHK. Each student belongs to a different college, and in that students are able to meet different peoples from different countries and students from different faculties. I think CUHK provides for a well-rounded university life for all students.





One of the most down to earth places in HK. A great opportunity to learn and embody the local culture. Also had one the most beautiful campus in Hong Kong up on the hillside. Glad to have graduated here.




Innovative and Supportive

My university provided me with all the support I needed, and encouraged me to be up to date with all the new developments in the world. They also provided me with the incentive to excel at what I do, and they take much pride in my achievements. I have had a very rewarding university experience.




Small, New But Friendly Law School

To being with, I think the campus of CUHK is the best and the biggest in Hong Kong, with fresh air and trees everywhere. I am an undergraduate Law student at CUHK and I think the teaching here is great, with very friendly and nice professors and the new Lee Shau Kee Building. In terms of the courses offered by CUHK, as one of the largest universities in Hong Kong, CUHK is an all-rounded university, offering a wide range of courses to students. Students may take the introductory courses of discipline other than their own major, or even declare a minor. For law electives, due to the small amount of intake, the variety of law electives are not that huge. However, the Faculty is offering some international programmes, which can be treated as law electives, but at the same time, provide us with an opportunity to travel and know more about the legal system of another country. The career support from the Faculty of Law is also amazing. The Faculty will organise CV Sessions and talks on how to get an internship from law firms or mini-pupillage from barrister's chambers. Each student will also have a Distinguished Professional Mentor, which is a current legal profession, providing us with practical advices and updates of the legal field. Finally, from my personal experience, I think the students in CUHK are friendly and genuine. As Law students, competition is inevitable for grades, GPAs, vacation schemes and training contract. However, I think the competition in CUHK Law School is a positive one, in a sense that help us grow together, instead of fighting with each other no matter what. That is the biggest reason why I am having a very good time here in CUHK Law School.




A place to explore your interests

As a law graduate from CUHK (both undergrad and post-grad), I realise that I had many opportunities to explore my areas of interests (legal and non-legal both). The faculty/university requires us to take a certain number of non-law electives, and offers a plethora of courses to choose from. Personally, I took 3 modules in Korean --I can't say it's made me highly proficient, but it's definitely given me a good foundation (I can walk into a Korean restaurant and confidently order food, at the very least). The fact that language courses are offered also provides students who are more financially constrained an opportunity to learn a language without having to shell out a premium for a decent language course. On top of that, we have a range of law electives as well. I know of classmates who have developed lasting interest in different areas of law because of the electives they took in school. The two electives that I would say have changed me is (i) mooting and (ii) family law. I think my experience in an international commercial arbitration moot competition has helped tremendously in formulating legal arguments and legal writing. On the other hand, taking a family law elective has made me very interested in the family law practice, especially in terms of child rights. For these experiences which I have gained, I'm grateful for the opportunities provided by the school. One main issue most students I know have is with the way our GPA is calculated and the lack of transparency in terms of how the honours system works. As our GPA is marked on a curve. it's highly unrepresentative of what we have achieved as individuals. Given that our GPA is the only criteria that is looked at when we apply for the compulsory post-graduate law course (mandatory should we want to practise law and/or be trainees in Hong Kong), it will put our own students at a distinct disadvantage when we compete for limited spaces with students from schools where GPA is not on a bell curve.




On Campus

Valuable time in CUHK

I like the learning environment and people at CUHK. Surrounded by hills and Tolo Harbour, CUHK provides a balance between nature and hustle. You can always escape from the busy study life and meet your friend around the big campus for different activities.