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Land of pomp and study

Published on Friday, 27 Jul 2012
Joe Sze says quality teaching and a friendly environment make the UK the best place to study.
Photo: British Council
Katherine Forestier
Photo: British Council

Home to both the Queen and cutting-edge pop music, the United Kingdom has always mixed tradition with forward thinking. With the origins of Oxford University going back 1,000 years, and with several British universities dating from the 13th to 16th centuries, the excellence of the country’s education system has ancient roots.

But this is also where the first television pictures were transmitted, the life-saving properties of penicillin were discovered and the idea of the World Wide Web was born. The quality of research work of UK institutes is exemplified by the fact that Cambridge University has produced more Nobel Laureates than any other university in the world.

In the field of business, the Association of MBAs (AMBA) – an organisation that monitors the quality of MBA programmes across the world – reports that a third of the 126 business schools offering courses accredited by the AMBA are located in the UK.

“Students can gain hugely by travelling to the UK for their MBAs,” says Katherine Forestier, senior education consultant with the British Council in Hong Kong. “They can enjoy a larger variety of courses with different specialisms, build networks with students from across the world, forge valuable links with industry in Europe, and enjoy the cultural experience of studying in the UK, with its historic cities and famed universities.”

According to the British Council, at any one time about 9,500 international students are studying full-time on MBA programmes at UK universities and business schools, filling approximately 90 per cent of the total available places. In 2010-11, there were 85 Hong Kong students enrolled on UK MBA programmes.

Joe Sze Ching-chung, 27, had been working for three years as a customer relationship manager in Fubon Bank’s wealth management unit when he left to take up a place on the one-year MBA programme at Warwick Business School. Although he is the only Hongkonger in his class, Sze’s fellow students include a number of mainlanders and Taiwanese.

Financing his studies through a combination of his personal savings and his family’s support, Sze is clear about his reasons for leaving bustling Hong Kong to study in the historic geographic heart of England. “UK master programmes are generally short, intensive and valuable,” he says. “[The Warwick MBA] can give me a fast track to career enhancement.”

Although he was well prepared for living and studying in the UK, Sze did still have to make some adjustments. “The programme is a little more intensive than I expected, especially in the first two terms. I also expected more assignment-based modules than exam-based ones. Other things have matched my expectations, including syndicate group work, networking and alumni events, and the career service.”

He has also noted differences to studying in Hong Kong. “Generally, students in Hong Kong are less culturally diversified than in the UK,” he points out.

“Lectures in the UK are more interactive, encouraging more student involvement, while lectures in Hong Kong tend to be more instructing and listening.”

Though Sze admits the particularly cold and wet weather the UK has been experiencing this year has taken some acclimatising to, he cites cultural differences as probably the greatest hurdle to overcome. “Studying in a highly culturally diversified class, sometimes there were cultural shocks. For example, [I found] Indian people tend to be less punctual and, during group discussions, they tend to give a great deal of context before reaching their key points.”

The British Council reports that the costs of the various MBA courses offered in the UK vary greatly, with tuition fees ranging from £7,000 (about HK$84,000) to more than £30,000.

Most of these full-time programmes last one academic year, although some, such as those offered by Manchester Business School and London Business School, may be longer.

They also all tend to follow a standard format, with three distinct stages.

The first consists of a general (or core) programme giving students an introduction to a broad subject area – for example, finance, economics, marketing, human resources or business strategy.

This is followed by electives, allowing students to choose those areas that interest them most. These may be drawn from options such as corporate responsibility, innovation, employment relations or entrepreneurship.

Last is a project or dissertation, usually based on original research, possibly from an in-company project undertaken in conjunction with a work placement.

Sze does have some words of advice for anyone in Hong Kong contemplating pursuing an MBA programme in the UK.

“Think about what overseas experiences you are looking for,” he counsels. “A one-year programme is very intensive and you may find the rest of your life is a bit overwhelmed by your studies. If you are looking for a slightly relaxing and enjoyable life, the UK may not be your first choice. However, the UK is still the best place for studying because of the high-quality teaching, strong atmosphere and friendly environment.”

He also suggests students prepare themselves for the extremely high cultural diversity they will find.

Finally, Sze says potential applicants should “try to contact some alumni before their interview, and accept any offers from those willing to share their experience [of studying in the UK]”.

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