YOU HAVE HEARD of Harvard University, the well-respected Ivy League institution that has nurtured some of the world's greatest minds. Now we have Hamburger University - also an American institution, but about as different from Harvard as fries are from foie gras. Hamburger University is the creation of McDonald's. The fast-food chain has six such universities around the world and opens another one in Hong Kong today. The name may make you laugh, but this is serious business. Hamburger University classes do not include lessons on flipping burgers or seasoning fries. All that happens at the bottom level in the kitchen. Hamburger University students are all management-level McDonald's employees and have come to learn how to better serve the fast-food empire. McDonald's signature golden arches frame the entrance to Hong Kong's Hamburger University. The Causeway Bay 'campus' occupies one floor in a Times Square office block and is made up of two large lecture rooms, a coffee area, a library and plenty of partitioned office space. There are also miniature brass Ronald McDonald statues sitting in glass cases and, of course, lots of golden arches. Hamburger University may be news to you, but it has been around for more than 40 years. Ray Kroc, who bought out the original owners in 1961, was way ahead of his time in terms of marketing and corporate building. One of the first things he did was to set up a training centre for his staff in Illinois, Chicago. He called it Hamburger University and it marked the beginning of corporate education. Today that campus has 30 resident professors and has seen more than 50,000 students graduate. McDonald's is not the only multinational to set up a university in Hong Kong. Walt Disney plans to set up a Disney University to train its 120,000 staff who will work at the Lantau theme park when it opens in 2005. As McDonald's has grown, so has its educational facilities and there are now universities in Tokyo, Sydney, Brazil, London and Germany. Hong Kong was chosen because it can draw staff from the mainland and Taiwan as well as the SAR. Having a common focus and goals for employees helps to nurture company loyalty, said director of Hamburger University, Hong Kong, Shirley Chang Shu-hua. She should know, she wears a gold and diamond McDonald's ring on her wedding finger.'I am married to McDonald's,' said Ms Chang, explaining that the ring was given to her by the firm after 10 years' service. She has the enthusiasm reminiscent of a cult member: 'We have a lot of people who have worked here for a long time. Every day is like the first day, it is so exciting.' And she is equally enthusiastic about the food. 'I love McDonald's food, yesterday I ate three meals. I really like the chicken wings and Big Macs,' she said. Ms Chang insists that McDonald's fare is healthy. 'We have lots of vegetables, like the onions and tomatoes in the burgers.' However, nutrition is not on the curriculum at Hamburger University.