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Investing in your future

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With competition for high-level jobs on the increase, getting an MBA is a shrewd move, writes Beverly Au.


According to the Forbes List in October 2014, the average five-year benefit (factoring in two years of forgone compensation, tuition and required fees) after gaining an MBA at Stanford Graduate School of Business is US$99,700 (HK$773,300). That’s quite a return on educational investment. The question is, are the returns comparable on a Hong Kong-won MBA, and how much will attaining the degree set you back?

Assessing the costs

There’s no denying that getting a premier MBA costs a pretty penny. The most talked about in Hong Kong, the Kellogg-HKUST Executive MBA programme comes in at HK$1,205,000 for an 18-month course. Ranked No. 1 in the world by the Financial Times for five years in a row (2009 to 2013), the programme is based out of Hong Kong University of Science and Technology (HKUST) in Clear Water Bay.

Students can opt to complete global electives at Kellogg partner schools in the US, Germany, Israel and China; graduates become alumni of both Northwestern University (Illinois, US) and HKUST.

There are, however, some respected and decidedly cheaper alternatives here in Hong Kong.

The Chinese University of Hong Kong’s CUHK Business School offers a full-time, 16-month programme for HK$500,000. The institute’s part-time MBA course costs HK$320,000. “Roughly 45% of our MBA students do the full-time course, while 55% take the part-time degree,” Lawrence Chan, CUHK’s director of marketing and student recruiting, explains.

CUHK was the first university in Hong Kong to offer entrepreneurship specialisations for an MBA. The university, located in Shatin, also offers MBA concentrations in venture capital and private equity.

According to Lawrence, five years after gaining their MBA, students’ salaries can rise by as much as 70%.

HKU SPACE, an extension of the University of Hong Kong, offers its MBA in International Management programme in conjunction with the University of London, through a combination of distance learning, online learning and optional teaching sessions. Course fees currently come in at around HK$170,000.

Aline Loh, programme director at HKU SPACE, reveals that 90% of HKU’s students take their MBAs on a part-time basis. The course takes two to five years to complete, depending on the amount of study time the individual student has at his disposal.

Aline suggests that students can reasonably expect to see a 20% to 30% jump in their salary after acquiring their MBA. “Students from senior management, moving upwards or horizontally in their field, may achieve a 50% increment on their pay or more, depending on the post they are applying for,” she adds.

Another popular MBA course in Hong Kong is the part-time Executive MBA programme jointly offered by Kaplan Higher Education and the University of Hull in the UK. According to Kaplan’s assistant marketing manager, Penny Chan, the 24-month degree sets candidates back around HK$130,000.

This breaks down to 18 months of coursework and a further six months to complete the dissertation. University of Hull dons fly out from the UK to teach each module at the Wanchai campus.

Finding the funds

Best-case scenario is, of course, if your company spots your potential and pays for you to take your MBA. But those shouldering the financial burden themselves basically have two options. Some dive into a full-time course over a one- to two-year timeframe that they pay for either out of their own pockets, or through a personal bank loan. Others continue to work full time to fund distance-learning courses.

For MBA graduates entering the charity sector, some US universities have developed a loan forgiveness programme to lessen the financial burden. This is not the case in Hong Kong, but scholarships are available at CUHK for students of merit; and in most cases, students can pay as they go, in instalments. Local students can also apply for government loans, though the coverage is limited.

“Most of our students have eight to nine years of working experience before embarking on our MBA courses at CUHK,” Lawrence says. “The majority of those taking the full-time course are foreigners and the medium of education for this class is English.”

The MBA students, tutored at Kaplan, are mainly full-time employees or business owners. “Most are working adults in their late 30s or early 40s, with solid working experience, looking for career advancement,” Penny says.

It’s a similar situation at HKU SPACE. “Most of our students come from middle to senior management backgrounds and are usually earning between HK$40,000 and HK$100,000 per month,” Aline says. HKU SPACE’s distance-learning, MBA courses have been especially designed for working adults. All lectures are delivered at the university’s Admiralty Learning Centre.

Reaping the benefits

Most MBAs carve out a career in finance after receiving their degrees, and this trend continues. That said, jobs in this sector are not as plentiful as they were prior to the 2008 financial crisis, and a growing number of graduates are going into other industries.

According to Lawrence, “There was a rapid bounce back in people wanting to do MBAs in Hong Kong after the banking crisis in 2008.”

Aline backs this up, saying: “Most of our HKU SPACE students are looking to update their skills to standout more in competitive industries. They see it as a good networking opportunity. We enrol senior executives and professionals from such fields as accounting, finance, engineering, banking, medical and marketing.”

Lawrence notes that graduate interest in the Tier 1 Chinese investment banks is growing, in anticipation of the introduction of direct share trading between the Hong Kong and Shanghai stock markets. “About 40% to 50% of our MBAs work in the banking sector,” he says. “The rest come from the hi-tech, luxury goods and consultancy sectors.”

Doubtless, getting an MBA is a shrewd move, whatever your profession. As Penny says: “Students build an understanding of the complexities of the global business environment. The vast majority of graduates go on to improve upon their current positions by becoming upper-level managers or directors across many different industries.”

Find it

• CUHK Business School, www.bschool.cuhk.edu.hk

• HKU SPACE, www.hkuspace.hku.hk

• Kaplan Higher Education, www.kaplan.edu.hk

• Kellogg-HKUST, www.emba.ust.hk

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