Business Studies (including MBA)More young executives signing up for degree programmes are gaining not only skills and business contacts, but increasingly life partners How do ambitious young business executives with demanding jobs find time for a social life while simultaneously studying for a postgraduate degree to further improve their career prospects? The answer, according to Matthew Lee Kwok-on, an associate dean (research & postgraduate) in the Faculty of Business, City University, is that the social and study time of these harried young executives can marry together in a surprisingly positive way. At a time when additional qualifications can make the world of difference in a fiercely competitive business environment, executives in their 20s and 30s are often meeting their future husbands and wives in the classroom. For executives who are already married, Professor Lee said, many of them were enjoying common interests and keeping their relationships on an even keel by signing up for postgraduate degree programmes. The social side of learning was crucial in a stressful and intensive learning environment, he said. 'It is a strain, and this is one of the things we make sure during interviews that they understand. 'They need to handle it well or it may damage their family life and social life. What we have found in a lot of cases - and this is very interesting - is that if the student is married and about 30, both husband and wife come to study. That's how they manage and are able to squeeze time out from a busy schedule. 'Then there are people who come here to do a second or third master's degree, and they are 30 something and not married. Many of them find their partners here too.' As well as romantic connections, important future career contacts are forged and networking skills nurtured among the businessmen and women who devote up to 12 hours of study a week towards their crucial extra qualifications. 'It provides a social infrastructure,' said Professor Lee. 'One of the things we emphasise a lot in our programmes is that it gives students social networking capital. They are not just coming here to learn what's in the books. The other side is that we also have a large social, professional networking [environment] and student learning is by experiential projects - working in project teams, working with each other, and getting to know other professionals in the same field.' It is this kind of interaction that makes the postgraduate degree courses so attractive even for the busiest young professionals. 'We have a fairly significant percentage of returnees - people with a master's degree who come back for another degree. We ask them why and they tell us it is part of their social life. Some of them feel lonely if they don't come back.' To cater for the growing demand for additional qualifications from career men and women with limited time, City University's Faculty of Business has devised a schedule whereby students can gain two postgraduate master's degrees in three years. 'It is a lot of work, but the possibility is there because our master's programmes - and we have a lot of those - have been reformed in the past few years so that they have a similar structure. Because they share a similar academic structure and a similar kind of learning pedagogy, we make it easier for students to transfer credits when they do a second master's from programmes in the same structure. 'Usually it takes about two years to complete a master's part-time, but our common structure will enable a maximum transfer of 30 to 40 per cent of the credits if they take the appropriate courses, and also students can take courses in the summer. Another advantage we have is our ability to offer courses throughout the year, even in the summer. So students can complete two master's degrees in three years under the consortium of the Faculty of Business, including MBA and master's degrees in banking, finance and applied economics.' Those achievements can make all the difference to ambitious young executives climbing the career ladder. 'In Hong Kong the job market is changing so fast,' said Professor Lee. 'People really need the qualifications and the skill and the knowledge and they need it quickly. 'In the past these qualifications gave them a competitive advantage. Now it is almost a competitive necessity. Some of these people have been in the workplace for five to 10 years and already have a degree. We ask them 'Why do you want to sacrifice your evening time to come in and study?' They reply 'Everyone around me has a second degree. If I don't have one I will be left behind'.' As a result, more young executives are signing up for the degree and finding that by giving up their free time they gain not only essential career skills but business contacts - and in an increasing number of cases, partners for life.