Marine engineer Makkar Singh was a results-oriented manager with a commitment to team building. But while he was strong in technical skills in the areas of shipboard machinery maintenance and shipbuilding, he had no formal training in general management. It did not show until he was promoted in the summer of 1999 by the ship management company he was employed in. 'The feeling of inadequacy started when I was entrusted with higher responsibilities as head of the technical department [at K C Maritime],' said Mr Singh, who came to Hong Kong from India seven years ago. He felt he was in particular need of finance and accounting knowledge, and therefore decided it was time to continue studies. 'I was eager to learn more about motivating people, team building, planning and control. I felt this was essential to be able to work better and perform as was expected of me by top management,' he said. Looking at the options available, Mr Singh decided that an open university was the best way to gain management skills. 'With modern communication and information technology, the information is more easily available, unlike a few years ago. All that is required is discipline and the willpower to make time for self-improvement. Open education provides a structure to help people manage their education process well,' he said. Mr Singh is one of thousands of working professionals to have enrolled in business programmes at the Open University of Hong Kong over the years. An English language MBA was launched in 1995. A Chinese language version was added three years later. Designed for managers wanting to develop both personally and professionally, the programmes emphasise the application of concepts through case studies and mini-projects rather than abstract understanding. Chan Wing-kwong, a senior medical technologist at the Clinical Genetic Service of the Department of Health, enrolled in the university's MBA programme to brush up his administrative and managerial skills. 'The environment was changing so rapidly I thought getting extra knowledge with an additional degree would be advanta geous among potential competitors,' Mr Chan said. Before enrolling in OU's MBA programme, Mr Chan had the mind-set of a typical civil servant. 'There was little consideration of the organisational missions, goals, employee participation, and client satisfaction,' he said. 'A lot of rules entangled with personal beliefs and characteris tics were applied. After studying for the MBA, there has been a change in my way of looking at problems, thinking and making decisions. 'A wider perspective, environmental factors, organisational objectives and client expectations are considered before decisions are made.' One of the challenges facing working professionals who return to the classroom is balancing professional and personal commitments with the demands of continuing study. 'The formation of study groups saved time, and enabled many to share their studies and benefit from other group members,' Mr Chan said. 'This helped our assignments and revision for exams. To study for the MBA, indeed any such course, you need to balance your time, your work and your lifestyle.' A flexible learning schedule is one of the advantages of OU's programme, Mr Chan said.