High-flying achievers head back to school

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 18 February, 2006, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 18 February, 2006, 12:00am

Postgraduate degrees are becoming hot assets, and professionals who want to study further are choosing the HKMA's top courses

Anyone over the age of 35 will remember that when they were in primary school, teachers and parents told them that a university degree was a meal ticket. If you had it, they said, you would be set for life.

In today's competitive world, a university degree is just the beginning, and continuing education is what life is set for. Postgraduate degrees are hot assets, and many people who go for them are high-flying achievers.

The MBus (Master of Business) and DBA (Doctor of Business Administration) programmes co-organised by the Hong Kong Management Association and the Newcastle Graduate School of Business under the University of Newcastle in Australia are two such postgraduate courses that attract large numbers of working professionals.

Allen Yeung, a partner at PricewaterhouseCoopers, has just completed his DBA, and said he did it for the experience.

'The degree is not going to help me get a raise or a promotion since I am already a partner of the company, but it gives me more self-belief to handle cases that I might have been less confident about before,' he said.

'The programme required that I did a lot of research, and it has taught me how to make inquiries more effectively.'

Mr Yeung is a business consultant.

The DBA is a three-year programme, with the first year consisting of eight courses and covering a curriculum equivalent to an MBA.

The second year covers six courses that encompass subjects ranging from managing organisational change and knowledge management to relationship marketing and global corporate governance and social responsibility.

Students spend the third year on their dissertations. They receive training on how to write a study paper properly before submitting their research proposals.

Those who already have an MBA, as in the case of Mr Allen, are exempt from year one.

'It was a long time ago when I got my MBA. I think the programme has helped me update my knowledge,' he said. 'In my line of work I have to read much about business models anyway, but the reading is rather scattered. My DBA study consolidates it.'

Technology has made this possible.

'When I was studying for an MBA there still weren't personal computers. Going to the library to do research would take hours. Now everything can be done more efficiently,' he said. 'It allows flexibility in my study. I didn't find it interrupted my schedule too much.'

The DBA, however, is not a correspondence course. Classes are held at HKMA's training centres and are taught by experienced professors flown in from Australia. Students also have access to the university's electronic library.

'I have looked at other programmes locally and in Britain and the United States, and very few of them would send professors over to teach classes.

Courses offered by local universities require that you attend a lot of classes. This course is well thought through,' he said. 'HKMA is also a good brand.'

The DBA programme is very intensive, and it takes hard work to complete it in two years.

Mr Yeung offers tips on how he did it.

'Many of my classmates didn't decide on the thesis until the research proposal stage, and at the end they scrambled to get it done,' he said. 'I set out a hypothesis from the beginning of the third year and I just worked my thesis in as I practised the modules. When I was ready to actually write the dissertation, all the material was already there.'

Those who simply want to build up leadership skills and business knowledge without specialisation can do the one-year MBus.

Amir Mahmood, assistant professor and acting head of NGSB, said: '[The programme] is shorter than an MBA but allows students to have an overview of general management without committing to a full MBA.

'It potentially provides entry into the DBA.'

The eight courses in an MBus cover foundations of marketing theory, accounting and financial management, management and organisational behaviour, corporate finance, international business environment, entrepreneurship, economics of competitive advantage and human resources management.

Sylvia Ma, assistant vice-president of Hongkong and Shanghai Banking Corporation, found the programme manageable even with a banking job.

'All the classes are on weekends, so I found them easy to accommodate,' she said.

Officially the classes only take up 36 contact hours in total; the rest is up to students' own discipline and initiatives.

'You are expected to do research and group discussions with your classmates after classes, so we often went out together for dinner to talk about projects. Altogether [studying for the programme] took up about 50 per cent of my free time,' Ms Ma said.

Mr Mahmood said an MBus took 70 hours of private study time on average.

'The fewer number of courses means students finish more quickly and thus there is a shorter period of disruption to normal life,' he said.

Degrees received from these joint programmes enjoy the same status as a home qualification in Australia.

Ms Ma said: 'Just because the professors are not based in Hong Kong does not mean we are short-changed. In my human resources management class the professor was unhappy with some of the submitted projects and he actually extended the course period until students had reworked the projects to [his] satisfaction.'

Professors also stay in touch with students after they leave town.

'We had an online blackboard where we could ask professors questions after they left Hong Kong. When the professors went on holiday, they would give us advance notice. They were very responsible,' she said.