Hong Kong learns valuable lessons
A growing number of professionals in the city are keeping up with the rapidly changing world thanks to higher education, writes Mary Luk
Furthur education is a must to ensure that Hong Kong advances as a knowledge-based city. Obtaining a bachelor's degree is not enough for many ambitious executives seeking a more senior position. Having a double degree or postgraduate degree is the goal of many facing keen competition and the rapid changes in knowledge and technology.
University Grants Committee figures show that 51,221 undergraduates enrolled in its 2006-2007 funded programmes, compared with 45,965 in 1996-1997. Funded programmes for research postgraduates for the past academic year were 5,465, compared with 3,353 10 years ago. There has also been a steady rise in the number of taught postgraduates - from 5,164 in 1996-1997 to 6,291 in 2004-2005. The committee grants loans to Hong Kong's eight tertiary education institutes.
Most postgraduate students are professionals, or semi-professionals, who sacrifice their days off and precious time with family to study. Their dedication and strong commitment to complete the degree enable them to enjoy the fruits of promotion and salary rises, and cherish the opportunity of sharing experience with peers from industries they are unfamiliar with.
A postgraduate degree for Simon Cua Tin-yin, an EMBA graduate of Ivey Business School and an employer, means even more than that. As managing director of Linkz International he hired two classmates, Peter Chan Cheung-tak and Stephen Ho Kuen-shun, to work for his company.
'At that time it was a coincidence that our group of companies were looking for high calibre talent to fill openings for our business development,' Mr Cua said. 'After two years of studying and working as teammates, I have better understanding of their personalities, ability and work style. I was inspired by their passion for every aspect and professionalism. I believed with advanced management training they would become competent leaders.'
Mr Chan is now the general manager - business development of Lighthouse Technologies (a sister company of Linkz Industries) and Mr Ho is the general manager of Linkz International (a subsidiary of Linkz Industries). Mr Cua said as education became popular the trend was for senior managers to hold a postgraduate degree with the belief that they could apply their expertise to work and prepare for more challenging positions.
'Academic background is one of the key factors in considering a suitable candidate. A postgraduate degree is a prerequisite for a senior executive position. This is particularly true for the manufacturing industry which calls for technological advancement and modern management systems. To comply with the ever-changing demands from present and future societies systematic and advanced training is required.'
However, he added that applicant potential should not only include an academic background, but integrity, attitude, character and interpersonal skills.
He said the EMBA course provided a good opportunity for senior executives to refresh their managerial skills after years of working because practical experiences and managerial skills were important for a company's growth.
'It also provides a good platform for exchange of ideas from different industries and different perspectives. Through case studies we gain insight into the global challenges, thus enhancing our company's competitiveness.'
Sarah Kwok, regional head of recruitment, Asia-Pacific at UBS Investment Bank, said in addition to graduates, the corporation welcomed postgraduate degree holders from different backgrounds.
'Tapping into a range of backgrounds, experiences, skills and fresh perspectives are essential if we are to satisfy the wide-ranging needs of our clients. Academic credentials are important, but, ideally, they should be augmented by a passion for business and finance. Prospective employees should also possess solid communication skills, creativity and strong team orientation,' she said.
She said that none of the bank's entry positions required candidates to hold a degree in a specific subject. However, recently a relatively large number of financial engineering degree holders had joined the fixed income and equities trading businesses, mainly as a result of the quantitative skills demanded by the roles.
'Throughout our business we seek to attract a blend of undergraduate and postgraduate degree holders - primarily MBA degrees. The skills and experience they bring are key to supporting the exponential growth of the investment banking business in the Asia-Pacific and of the organisation as a whole.'
However, Ms Kwok said that the discipline studied was always secondary to the candidate's ability to learn, adapt and contribute to the team. 'Candidates need to demonstrate a passion for the business and possess the skills and attributes to be successful in their role from day one. Clearly a postgraduate degree is a reliable indicator of enhanced understanding and ability.'
Christina Li-man, a year two part-time student of master of finance (investment management), Polytechnic University, said studying for a postgraduate degree could sharpen her competitive edge in the wealth management market.
'Many peers in our industry upgrade by studying a postgraduate degree,' said Ms Li, prestige banking centre manager, Hang Seng Bank (Yuen Long branch). 'Nowadays, bank customers are smart and look for quality managers. They will shop around before choosing what's best for them. Most wealth management products are relatively similar, so we must be knowledgable to make our service outstanding and build up trust with clients.'
Ms Li said she enjoyed lessons on security analysis conducted by a lecturer with rich practical experience in the field. He shared and discussed cases with students in a lively way.
'I have more than 10 years experience in wealth management. I can actively apply what I've learnt to my daily work. This is different from my early days as an undergraduate when I just learned classroom theories without having the opportunity to put them into practice.'
May Chan Ching-man, a year two student of Baptist University's master in strategic human resources management, said she studied the course to uphold the spirit of lifelong learning.
'If you don't upgrade you will fall behind. The keen competition is also the motivation driving me to continue studying. Having a postgraduate degree has an advantage in employment,' she said.
Ms Chan, human resources manager of Eaton Hotel Hong Kong, said in studying the postgraduate degree she had the opportunity to team up with classmates from other industries on projects. She could learn from them how they dealt with employees, something that could not be learnt from books.
'As a human resources manager, I see candidates with a postgraduate degree as people with initiative and commitment. As a mother of two children I continued attending lessons during my pregnancy. I did homework over the weekend and burned the midnight oil to study.'