MBA graduates are in big demand on the mainland where they can expect to boost their salary by up to 126 per cent, according to a survey carried out last year by the London Business School. The survey showed that, worldwide, MBA recipients received an average salary rise of 46 per cent immediately after graduation - compared with their pre-MBA pay - 129 per cent three to five years later and 208 per cent six to 10 years after leaving business school. It is not just corporate giants that require the skills learned on an MBA course. In the today's economic climate small firms need managers who are able to help grow the business. An MBA takes time and commitment and it is not cheap. Most students are working full time, usually in management positions. Carol Lo is studying part time at Polytechnic University (PolyU) and is halfway through her second year. She works for an outsourcing company that supplies security data management solutions to Hong Kong's banks. 'The economic downturn means it's more important than ever to be competitive in the workplace and an MBA will give me an edge,' she says. 'If you have this qualification you will not be the first person to be fired. 'I studied translation at University of Hong Kong, but I didn't take any business studies courses. I've been working with my present company for three years and in the commercial world for 10 years, and I have come to realise that further qualifications will be beneficial to my career development.' Lo says the MBA is giving her the opportunity to study subjects such as organisational behaviour. 'It allows me to get a clearer picture of how a company is structured and how I can develop my role to be more effective,' she says. 'I've also been learning about international management which gives me a greater understanding of how companies operate worldwide. It has given me an insight I would not have had otherwise. And I have had a brief introduction to finance and accounting. She says the risk management aspect of the course is very valuable. 'During a downturn, your company will need this information and if you are an employee who can provide it you are in a strong position. It's the same with brand building and marketing - your company will turn to you if it knows you have this knowledge. Overall, I have really learned to focus, to be more systematic in my approach and it's trained my mind to think of contingencies.' In addition to professional knowledge, Lo says the course has provided good networking opportunities. 'There are so many people from different industries and you work on projects with them so you get to learn about their areas of expertise,' she says. 'It's especially good for me because my field is quite niche. I've met some company owners as well as employees on this course and they have some great stories to tell - they are inspirational.' Her views are echoed by Paxson Chow, a father of two young children from the New Territories. He has a marketing degree and is a manager in the watch industry where he has worked for more than 10 years. He is taking an MBA part time at PolyU. He says: 'My company is a global distributor of watches and I organise promotional events. I'm also responsible for sales in China.' He says the two-year course has broadened his horizons. 'Before, I was always focused just on marketing and sales,' he says. 'Now I have a much wider view of the working world and the way companies work as a whole. That's invaluable.' His greatest challenge has been the time commitment. In addition to the classes, Chow spends evenings and most weekends doing course work. 'It's challenging at times because I am the father of two babies. Luckily, my wife takes charge most of the time.' In addition to the workplace skills he has learned, Chow says the course has helped develop his personal skills. It is an experience he shares with Francis Ng, who works in brand operations for global pharmaceuticals giant Proctor & Gamble. 'The group work and discussions, which are part of the MBA course, have given me the chance to meet people from all types of industries, in the fashion and design fields for example. It's quite a diverse and there is a lot of discussion and sharing. I've made a lot of good friends on the course.' Ng has been with Proctor & Gamble for more than eight years. When he joined he worked in accounts, then two years ago he set up an in-house marketing team and promotion agency. He chose to take an MBA because he felt he needed to sharpen his skills and thinking. He says: 'The sort of training I am getting on the MBA course has afforded me the opportunity to step back and take stock of all the experience I have and to organise it better for my future career prospects. The world is changing so fast, I have to sharpen my thinking as well as my skills to meet new challenges. The MBA has required me to read a lot more and it is only the beginning. It's made me realise how important it is to continue to read and research as much as possible to maintain competitiveness.'