Students of the future will be like Annette Andrews, who is still clocking up degrees at the age of 29 and is a living example of the phrase "lifelong learning". A personnel co-ordinator at Ford, she works full- time at the company's European headquarters in Brentwood, Essex, and at weekends sits down at home to bend her mind round her master's degree in business administration.

It is fortunate for Mrs Andrews that she enjoys study. "I enjoy finding out more," she explains. "But I'll be honest with you: it's tough. Not only are you juggling your working life, but you're juggling travel on the job, and you need to maintain a social life."

Mrs Andrews is feeling the pressure this month because final examinations loom. She has an assignment to finish for her MBA at Henley Management College, she has to begin revising and she has to keep her job ticking over. Why is she putting herself through such a punishing schedule?

The answer is that by acquiring new skills and knowledge she is making herself more marketable. With a first degree in sports science and history from Liverpool University, she realised when she joined Ford that she would need extra qualifications. So she wasted no time. Ford supported her financially through a three-year Institute of Personnel and Development qualification, which she studied through distance learning, just as the company is now supporting her through her MBA. "I collapsed in a heap for six months and then started again," she says.

Her MBA is giving her general business awareness and an understanding of customers' needs. "It is my way of broadening my horizons," she adds.

Mrs Andrews likes to push herself, which is why she is doing her MBA in two-and-a-half years, the minimum time allowable. Much of the work is done on her computer at home in Billericay, Essex, which she shares with her husband. He also works for Ford and is also undertaking a postgraduate degree - an MSC in automotive engineering. The couple fight over the computer, but otherwise her husband's involvement in lifelong learning has brought more domestic harmony. "I think he's more understanding now of me," she says.

At Ford almost 2,000 employees are studying for part-time degrees in the same way as Annette Andrews and her husband. Other staff are able to do other courses at sub-degree level. Ken Mortimer, the company's education programme manager, says: "We believe that anyone who adds to their learning will be better for it and will contribute in their work better, because they have stretched their minds."

In the old days the company would have sent its staff off to study for MBAs at prestigious business schools such as Harvard, but it found that those people rarely returned to work for Ford. By giving employees the chance to acquire a part-time MBA from the workplace at a cost of about pounds 10,000 apiece, it keeps its talent at home. And it rewards talent with promotion. According to Mr Mortimer, of the first group of part-time MBAs, five people were promoted before they completed it.

Mrs Andrews is not expecting automatic promotion, however. "I am doing this for me," she says. "I have gained a wider business perspective and a much greater understanding of my own organisation"n