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Chapter 11: Sub-Degree Courses
11.1 We treat within this section of our Review those higher education courses of substantial length and content which lead to a recognised non-degree qualification such as a higher certificate, diploma or higher diploma. The nomenclature "non-degree" or "sub-degree" is perhaps unfortunate : these courses are not inferior versions of degree courses. They serve quite different aims and they produce people who fill roles in society which are of great significance, and for which the starting pay is not much lower than for graduates. Indeed the major high-level labour shortage in many industries worldwide has for many years been not of graduates, but of diplomates and certificate holders. It is also important that sub-degree courses should not be considered primarily as stepping stones to degree courses : they are of major value in their own right and lead to qualifications which for many purposes are more valuable than a degree.

11.2 The apogee of sub-degree qualifications is the higher diploma, awarded after three years of full-time study or four years part-time (the equivalent qualification at the APA is termed an advanced diploma and at the HKIEd a Certificate of Education). A higher diploma can also be obtained over a longer period of part-time study through the OLI. The minimum entry requirement is usually five passes in HKCEE, but the course may be shortened if the student has HKALE passes or possesses a relevant diploma or higher certificate. PolyU, for example, currently offers thirteen two-year higher diploma courses with an HKALE entry and HKIEd's Certificate of Education courses have both a Secondary 5 and a Secondary 7 entry. Study for higher diplomas takes place at the Technical Colleges, the APA, HKIEd, CityU (through its College of Higher Vocational Studies) and PolyU. Also in the upper group of sub-degree courses, and conveniently included here, are the four year programmes at Chu Hai College and Shue Yan College which follow one year of sixth form education. These stem from a liberal arts tradition and are somewhat different in character from the vocationally oriented higher diplomas. The one-year diploma programme in business studies at the Hang Seng School of Commerce which follows HKALE is also included here.

11.3 In 1994-95, there were 22,000 fte students following higher diploma or other high level sub-degree courses at the Technical Colleges, the APA, the HKIEd, CityU, PolyU, LC, Chu Hai College, Shue Yan College, Francis Hsu College and Hang Seng School of Commerce. The largest subject area was engineering/ technology with 6,000 fte students. Business had 5,400 fte students of whom 700 were studying accountancy; education 4,100, science 2,300 fte students of whom 1,700 were studying computer and mathematical sciences; social sciences 2,000; arts 1,900 and medicine 300. The distribution is shown in Figure 11.1.

Figure 11.1 Distribution of FTE Students between Subject Areas on Higher Diploma
and Other High Level Sub-Degree Courses (1994-95)

Figure 11.1
Source : VTC, APA, HKIEd, CityU, PolyU, LC, Chu Hai College, Shue Yan College, Francis Hsu College and Hang Seng School of Commerce

11.4 Although we have expressed the student numbers in the preceding paragraph in terms of full-time equivalence, almost all of the courses are in fact full-time. They tend (except for those at Shue Yan College) to be more specific and more vocationally oriented than first degree courses. For example, the purpose of the Higher Diploma in Pharmaceutical Technology at Hong Kong Technical College (Chai Wan) is "to prepare graduates for careers as dispensers in clinics and hospitals and as higher technicians and supervisors in the pharmaceutical industry in Hong Kong". The Higher Diploma in Shipping Management Studies at PolyU is again aimed at preparing students for work in a particular industry. Certificate of Education courses at the HKIEd are intended to produce classroom teachers. Not all higher diploma courses are so precisely focused : that in mechanical engineering at Hong Kong Technical College (Tsing Yi) is a "broad based course" which "prepares students for many diverse careers". Nevertheless, the thrust of these high level sub-degree courses is to serve more immediately practical ends than the "general development of the powers of the mind" which we noted in paragraph 10.12, and diplomates are attractive to employers as being readily productive. Their starting salaries are about 10% lower than those of degree graduates.

11.5 Of a different character, but somewhat similar to higher diploma courses in terms of entry requirements and duration, are some of the full-time courses at the denominational foundations such as Adventist College and Francis Hsu College.

11.6 Unlike higher diploma courses, higher certificate courses are usually part-time. Teaching is carried out through day release or in the evenings. The entry qualification is a certificate or diploma in the same subject area. For day release teaching, courses usually last two years, and for evening teaching 3 years. Higher certificate courses are offered by the VTC Technical Colleges and by PolyU. They are intended to enable those already in employment to improve an existing qualification. The course level and career expectation are slightly lower than for a higher diploma. Similarly structured courses are provided by the HKIEd for serving teachers. The part-time evening courses for the City and Guilds of London Institute's Technological Certificate, which are offered by the Hong Kong College of Technology, are also equivalent to higher certificate courses. There are in total 10,700 (headcount) students taking higher certificate type courses, of whom 4,800 are studying engineering and construction and 1,000 education. The full-time equivalence is about 2,500.

11.7 When we turn to diploma and certificate courses, there is a bewildering variety of types and of provision. We are also faced with a good deal of overlap between courses intended for young people and those which form part of continuing education, the main discussion of which follows in Section E. As a rough demarcation, we shall omit from this section on sub-degree work those courses which are provided by specialist units concerned with continuing and professional education, and also courses for post-experience diplomas and certificates (PeD's and PeC's) which require work experience as a prerequisite for entry (see also paragraph 21.6). We shall also reserve for Chapters 21-24 courses which, although not labelled "post-experience", are nevertheless intended for those with substantial employment experience.

11.8 An initial and immediate problem is to decide which courses can properly be included within higher education. Education and Manpower Branch (EMB) has offered a definition which in essence is that for inclusion a course must have either (a) entry at HKALE level; or (b) entry at HKCEE level and at least three years full-time study or its equivalent. By and large, we shall adopt this definition, although there are a few exceptions which we will note (see next paragraph). The two-year full-time or three-year part-time post HKCEE courses at the VTC's Technical Institutes, which lead to a diploma or a certificate, are excluded, as are other courses which provide an alternative to sixth form studies at school such as the diploma courses at the APA.

11.9 Courses which have a HKALE entry, such as the Certificate and Diploma in Chinese Language at HKU, the Diploma in Personnel Management at PolyU and the Diploma in Business Studies at the Hang Seng School of Commerce, lie within higher education, but there are courses with a HKCEE entry which do not fit the EMB definition of sub-degree work, but which because of their nature merit further consideration. The courses for the Diploma in Social Work, offered full-time over two years and part-time over four years by both CityU and PolyU, are intended to produce professional workers in social welfare and social service. Much of the material and laboratory work is nearer to that found in the early part of an undergraduate course than to A level studies, and it seems appropriate to include the diploma within sub-degree work. The Diploma in Legal Executive Studies, offered as a part-time evening course by PolyU, may have an HKALE or HKCEE entry. Its content and purpose suggests that it may conveniently be regarded as sub-degree work, although for some entrants it may be more akin to continuing professional education. These courses attract some 1,500 students, with a full time equivalence of 1,000.

11.10 There are doubtless other certificate and diploma courses where the boundaries between secondary and tertiary education, and between sub-degree work and continuing education, are far from clear, but within the present chapter we have explored this area sufficiently. We turn now to two other parts of the existing landscape where the boundaries may be uncertain: taught postgraduate courses and continuing education.

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