A company's most valuable asset is its employees, and human resources managers are increasingly being described as the heartbeat of an organisation.
As companies start to realise the importance of the HR function, there is a growing need for continuing education in this fast-growing field to equip practitioners with the tools to manage an organisation's most valued asset at all levels.
This was the driving force that led Ritchie Bent, group head of human resources at Jardine Matheson, to do a master's of science in human resources - a collaborative venture between Hong Kong University SPACE and the University of Leicester in 1992.
'I took this course when I went into HR because, although I already had a postgraduate qualification in personnel management, my HR knowledge was based on what I'd been taught at the Royal Hong Kong Police, which wasn't a commercial entity. I felt I needed to commercialise the grounding I already had,' he said.
Having spent several years in operational and training roles with the police force, and holding a marketing role with Kodak before that, Mr Bent still felt he was not adequately equipped when he made the jump to corporate management.
'The corporate world was a different environment, where money and profitability were the major measures of success. Understanding how you manage people in the commercial world was therefore critical, and as such I needed something to help me understand those differences,' he said.
The purpose of the master's programme, according to Peter Kennedy, senior programme director, was to fill this need.
'For a master's level, you are already working in HR, it's not an introductory course or a practical tips course on how to hire and fire people,' Dr Kennedy said. 'We make sure it is not just an abstract academic programme that tries to introduce bookish concepts, so the purpose is to bridge the gap between theory and practice ... it should acquaint you with recent thinking in the field and that should feed in to what you do on a day-to-day basis.'
Recalling that he had been at Jardine Matheson for a few years up until that point, Mr Bent agreed that the course was relevant to his work and helped him make sense of what he was doing.
'It gave me the bigger perspective about what this whole thing of HR was about, which is really very much to do with mobilising the human elements of business in order to achieve the commercial goals,' he said.
'I view things more strategically now than I ever did before. I think in pictures rather than words, and that's very helpful. It helped me view things as a whole, rather than individual fragments, and this is another area where the course helped.'
Drawing on his experience in the police force, Mr Bent explained that businesses tended to rely more heavily on growth, movement and change.
'It really requires that you understand clearly what direction you are taking it all in,' he said. 'What the HR degree did was help me clearly understand the link between that desire to grow and change, and the mobilisation of people to achieve that intent,' he said. 'The pieces of the jigsaw were there but they hadn't been brought together to form the picture.
'So in a sense if you think of the master's programmes as identifying the jigsaw pieces and then bringing them together into a coherent understandable picture, that's what this was all about for me.'
The two year master's programme offers five variations: a master's of science in human resource development; human resource management and development; human resource development and performance management; international HR and globalisation; and industrial relations and HR. The programme
accepts 100 to 130 students in four intakes a year.
'We are pioneers in Hong Kong of this kind of course. By the end of this academic year, 2,000 students would have enrolled in the programme, so we have played a major role in equipping Hong Kong with its HR professionals,' Dr Kennedy said.
To celebrate its 15th anniversary, students enrolling in any of the five variations of the master's of science in human resources course this month will receive a GBP1,000 (HK$15,815) commemorative bursary.