Chapter 12: Taught Postgraduate Courses and CPE

12.1 As we have shown in paragraph 6.5, the growth in taught postgraduate numbers is comparatively recent. Postgraduate certificate and diploma courses usually take one year of full-time study or 1-2 years part-time. Masters courses take 1-2 years full-time or 2-3 years part-time. There are about 4,200 fte students engaged in taught postgraduate courses, of whom 1,000 are in education and 1,000 in business studies, including the MBA. The next largest groups are engineering and social sciences. Numbers in science and the humanities are small. The cost of postgraduate courses is largely met by government, although there are a few self-financing courses.

12.2 The purposes of taught postgraduate courses are diverse. Some are there to qualify the student for a particular professional activity. The Diploma and Certificate in Education courses run by HKBU, CUHK, HKU and the HKIEd qualify the holders to teach in secondary schools (although at present non-graduates without this qualification may also do so). The Postgraduate Certificate in Laws offered by CityU and HKU enables successful students to enter the legal profession as pupil barristers or trainee solicitors. Other postgraduate courses take specialist knowledge in a particular field beyond that acquired in an undergraduate course : an example is the MA in Arbitration and Dispute Resolution at CityU. Many postgraduate courses provide "state of the art" updating in a particular area and may be of value both to recent graduates and to those in employment wishing to bring their knowledge up to date : the MSc in Biochemical Technology in PolyU is an example. In a few cases postgraduate courses are regarded as important precursors to research work, but the courses are not usually designed with that as a primary purpose.

12.3 Taught postgraduate courses are the principal means by which higher education institutions can respond swiftly to changing situations and the changing needs of both students and society. Undergraduate courses, because of their breadth and complexity, and because they are usually intended for substantial numbers of students, take two years or more to plan, organise and recruit for, and need a further three years to produce their first graduates. Lead times are thus at least five years. Postgraduate courses, being narrower, involving only a few staff, and aimed at a specific market, can be mounted in a few weeks and the total time from inception to first output may be as short as one year. They are, particularly in technology, the ideal means for spreading new knowledge. That knowledge may well, however, in time become part of the undergraduate corpus. Many taught postgraduate courses should therefore be ephemeral. It is as important to know when to close down a postgraduate course as it is to seize the right opportunity to start one.

12.4 The various HEIs choose differing ways to organise their taught postgraduate courses and differing nomenclature to describe them. At present, HKU's nine faculties offer about 60 taught postgraduate courses under specific titles such as Master of Science in Urban Planning or Advanced Diploma in Orthodontics. Most are 1 year full time or 2 years part-time, although some are longer. CUHK has 35 graduate divisions which offer 15 MA, MSc or MSSc courses lasting one year full-time or two years part-time and 2 Diploma programmes. There are two-year full time (three-year part-time) courses for the degrees of MBA, M Div and MSW. HKUST has about 14 taught postgraduate courses, including some interdisciplinary ones, under fairly general titles. CityU's four faculties have some 25 courses with specific titles. PolyU's taught postgraduate courses, mostly part-time and on a credit accumulation basis, are offered by individual departments : there are about 50 in all, but many are based on a modular scheme incorporating common units. HKBU has a small number of courses of recent origin. In all there are about 170 taught postgraduate courses available, with a typical class size of 10 to 20 fte students. We have not attempted any more detailed analysis of course content than the broad division of paragraph 12.1, since we believe that if these taught postgraduate courses are serving Hong Kong well, both their birth and mortality rates should be high.

12.5 The UGC has for some time been concerned about the cost-effectiveness of some small taught postgraduate courses. In its letter conveying the Committee's advice on the institutions' academic development programmes for the 1995-98 triennium, the following points were made :
  1. the minimum size of a course should normally be 10 -15 fte;

  2. if demand is such that this minimum size cannot be achieved on an annual basis, consideration should be given to running the course biennially or triennially;

  3. institutions should not duplicate courses for which demand is low, but should collaborate in running a single course; and

  4. courses which enhance the earning capacity of the participants should, whenever possible, be provided on a self-financing basis.

12.6 We shall be devoting a complete section of our report (Section E) to continuing and professional education (CPE), so reference to it here will be brief. There are a number of specialist units within existing HEIs which make CPE provision. The School of Professional and Continuing Education at HKU is the direct successor to the former Extra Mural Department. It works mainly on a part-time basis and has about 58,000 students (headcount) of whom 16,000 are on higher level courses. The School of Continuing Studies at CUHK, also stemming from the former Extra Mural Department, has 35,000 students (headcount) of whom 6,000 are being taught through distance learning. The School of Continuing and Professional Education at CityU has 11,800 students (headcount), 1,400 of them on higher level courses. The Centre for Professional and Continuing Education and the Centre for Professional & Business English at PolyU have 10,600 and 5,600 students respectively and HKBU's School of Continuing Education 36,000. HKIEd has about 5,000 students on professional updating courses.

12.7 The largest provider at higher level might be regarded as the OLI with 16,000 students (headcount) on degree courses: however, we have already included the OLI's contribution in paragraph 10.10 on part-time undergraduate courses. Other agencies which are involved include the Caritas Adult and Higher Education Service, with 100,000 students, most of them on courses at primary and secondary level, and the Hong Kong Management Association with 40,000 students of management topics at various levels from elementary to executive development. The Hong Kong College of Technology through its Information Service Centre of Professional Studies (ISCOPS) provides information to those in employment about local and overseas professional qualifications. Additionally, of course, many private firms and government departments provide in-house continuing professional education either from their own resources or by employing external experts. The total activity is very difficult to measure, as we have seen in paragraph 6.8. There are today perhaps 320,000 students (headcount) engaged in forms of continuing and professional education which we think it appropriate to include within higher education. Their full-time equivalence may be 46,000.

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