Those wanting to upgrade their skills appreciate a course where they can learn at their own pace with ample support FREDERICK CHAN Kwok-hing has been working in personal banking since 1971. He emigrated to Canada in 1988 and attained a degree in banking from the Association of Canadian Bankers in 1994. He returned to Hong Kong 10 years ago. When Mr Chan, who is in his early 50s, decided to do an MBA, he researched his options carefully. Owing to his busy schedule, frequent overseas trips and family commitments, a programme with many face-to-face tutorials was out of the question. But at the same time, he did not want to be totally left to his own devices. The MBA programme offered by the Edinburgh Business School at the Heriot-Watt University in conjunction with Polytechnic University's HKCyberU seemed to best meet his needs. 'I thought it would upgrade my knowledge of business administration, finance and the world economy,' he said. 'It would allow me to study at my own pace. The pricing was competitive and the staff caring.' Established in 2000, HKCyberU is a wholly owned subsidiary of PolyU and offers multimedia online degree programmes by PolyU and other universities using a blended learning mode. Students have full access to the university's library and computer facilities. In addition to being able to download and print out materials online, they can participate in real time chat rooms, send questions to tutors by e-mail and attend optional face-to-face tutorials. 'I visit the campus about three times a month,' Mr Chan said. 'It is easier to concentrate in the library, and I like to consult books and reference materials. The location in Hunghom is also very convenient.' The programme comprises core courses in accounting, economics, finance, marketing, organisational behaviour, project management and strategic planning, plus two electives. Choices run from alliances and partnerships to strategic risk management. Each module has face-to-face tutorials using local case studies and examples. The programme can be completed in 12 months or a maximum of five years. Assessment is entirely by examination. Students not wanting to pursue a full MBA can take individual courses to update their specific skills or needs. Upon completion of three courses, including at least one core course, they can obtain a postgraduate certificate in business administration. With another three courses, they can receive a postgraduate diploma in business administration. Or they can then continue to receive their MBA. 'E-learning is flexible for mature students, allowing us to study anywhere, everywhere, and at any time,' Mr Chan said. 'Through the past three tutorials, I have found the instructors to be responsible, dedicated and caring - thus [serving as] strong motivators.' One of the attractions for Mr Chan is that Chinese-language translations of course materials are available and students can take their exams in either English or Chinese. Unlike many people enrolling in MBA programmes, Mr Chan does not expect to get promoted. 'At my age and when all my past years of experience in the industry are counted, the degree can enhance my academic status but not necessarily [lead to a] promotion. I have solid work experience, but I needed academic support and this has resulted in a win-win situation.' Heriot-Watt's MBA programme is the second-largest distance-learning MBA in the world, according to the Financial Times MBA survey in 2003. HKCyberU is responsible for recruiting students in Hong Kong as well as providing face-to-face tutorials and revisions, which run for about 11 hours per subject per semester. HKCyberU and Heriot-Watt have jointly offered this programme since last July.