Chapter 27: Other Taught Courses

27.1 In the preceding two chapters we have studied at some length the future of full-time undergraduate education. In the present chapter we deal more briefly with part-time first degree, sub-degree and postgraduate courses.

27.2 The demand for part-time first degree courses stems from a number of sources within the population. There are those who have received no previous higher education, and possibly even an incomplete secondary education, who are getting a "second chance". They may require to take a preliminary or access course before engaging with the degree work proper. Then there are those who already have a higher educational qualification, but at a sub-degree level, who wish to convert this to a degree. This is particularly attractive to employees in jobs where there is a link between qualification and pay. Finally there are those, already well qualified, who take a part-time first degree course because of widening or changing interests, or for leisure reasons. The characteristic of all of these groups, which distinguishes them from full-time undergraduates, is that they tend to be older, to have work experience and to have already acquired many of the "general" benefits of full-time higher education by other means. Part-time undergraduate courses can therefore concentrate on the subject specific aspects of first degree work.

27.3 When given by a UGC HEI, the modes of teaching for a part-time degree may not differ very much from those for a full-time one, although there will be a greater emphasis on self learning. Some courses from the UGC-funded institutions, however, and all of those from the OLI, employ distance learning, in which there are no lectures and the student works through printed material, television, audio tape or on a personal computer. The process is not impersonal: a tutor is available by telephone to answer queries and tutorial classes are held at a number of locations throughout the territory. Because of crowded home conditions in Hong Kong, the OLI has also opened several quiet centres for self study. As we noted in paragraph 2.10, there are in addition about 300 institutions outside Hong Kong offering courses here by distance learning, sometimes afforced by local teaching. Many of these courses are for first degrees.

27.4 In looking at the future of part-time undergraduate education beyond 1998, we do see a greater internationalism in the activity. Apart from the increasingly easy access to worldwide materials for use by local institutions, which we noted when discussing full-time courses, it should become much simpler via personal computer for students to join courses offered by universities or distance learning units in other countries. Conversely, Hong Kong HEIs may find profitable markets for their own undergraduate distance learning materials in topics or modes where they have an advantage, for example in Chinese culture and history or in courses given in Chinese.

27.5 As far as the clientele is concerned, we believe that there will be a diminution in "second chance" applicants. The availability of initial higher education to a much larger proportion of young people than was the case a decade ago means that there will in future be fewer adults who might have benefited from a full-time undergraduate course, but lacked the opportunity to do so. On the other hand, as we move increasingly to a knowledge based primary economy (see paragraph 24.2) the desire for more and better qualifications will grow and the demand for part-time undergraduate courses for entrants already possessing certificates or diplomas is likely to expand.

27.6 There is also some evidence from Europe that in an increasingly affluent society the role of non-vocational degrees may become more important, particularly if the distance learning material is of very high quality and attractively presented. Indeed, over the whole spectrum of part-time undergraduate education post-1998, improved communications will lead to wider competition, and quality, presentation and marketing are likely to become increasingly important.

27.7 As we noted in paragraph 27.5, and also in Chapter 11, sub-degree courses will always be regarded by some of the participants as stepping stones on the way to a degree. This is not, however, their primary purpose, and the nomenclature "sub-degree" is misleading if it implies either a staging post or inferiority. Sub-degree courses, like degree courses in medicine or dentistry, are overtly vocational. Most of them, indeed, are given under the auspices of the Vocational Training Council. In this they differ from the majority of undergraduate courses which, although preparing students for employment, are not job-specific. For the full-time higher diploma and other high level courses, entry is usually two years younger than to a first degree (although Shue Yan College recruits entirely from form 7), but for part-time sub-degree courses intended for those in employment students are older. The full-time courses at the Technical Colleges, the APA, the HKIEd, CityU, PolyU and Shue Yan College offer to varying extents some of the opportunities for "general" education which we described for undergraduates in paragraphs 25.2 and 25.3.

27.8 The education and training given in a higher diploma course prepares the diplomate to enter a career as a higher technician, a technician engineer, architect or surveyor, an inspector or supervisor of processes, a dispenser, a field officer, a graphic designer, a software developer and many comparable jobs in the banking, business, catering and hotel industries, as well as a professional in health care or the social services. For a higher certificate holder the expectations may be marginally lower, and certificates and diplomas tend to be taken to satisfy a very specific career need or as steps on the way to the higher qualifications.

27.9 The mode of teaching within a sub-degree course relies less on the formal lecture and tutorial than in an undergraduate course (although both are used) and more on case studies, practical training, projects and placement for work experience in industry and commerce. There has been evidence in some countries of increasing difficulty with industrial placements for students as the nature of industry and commerce changes. This is not yet a widespread problem in Hong Kong, but we are aware of training shortages in some areas. We hope that post-1998 the present general pattern of sub-degree education will persist even though it will clearly, like undergraduate learning, be influenced by IT and the context of courses will change to meet Hong Kong's needs.

27.10 Taught courses for higher degrees are, on any significant scale, very recent growths in Hong Kong. They have been encouraged by the UGC, and to some extent within non-UGC institutions, as means of recruiting and retaining the enthusiasm of good academic staff, training within Hong Kong the next generation of staff for HEIs, and upgrading high level skills within government, commerce and industry. The UGC's encouragement has been targeted. Student numbers for taught postgraduates have been defined for individual institutions dependent upon their agreed role. The rate of growth overall, although substantial, has been limited by the availability of finance, by demand and, in some cases, by a paucity of suitably experienced academic staff. The interest shown by commerce and industry in taught postgraduate courses within HEIs has so far been small, but some employment of individual members of staff to help with in-house training occurs.

27.11 We would expect that taught master's courses, both full-time and part-time, will increase in importance post-1998. As we explained in paragraph 12.3, they are a swift and flexible means of disseminating new knowledge. Although, as a matter of convenience, we excluded higher degrees from our discussion of Continuing and Professional Education in Section E, many of the arguments there adduced for the growth of recurring education (paragraph 23.2) apply to taught higher degrees also.

27.12 Taught master's courses fall into two main categories. There are those which provide a corpus of well-established knowledge not necessarily connected in any way with the student's first degree; and there are those which provide "state of the art" additions to some aspect of the student's undergraduate exploration of a subject. The most successful example in the first category is the MBA. Although there are some signs overseas of slight slackening of demand, perhaps due to having satisfied "backlog" needs, perhaps because of the growth of undergraduate courses incorporating business elements, the MBA seems likely to have a permanent place in the taught postgraduate spectrum. So do courses, under various names, which enable non-law graduates to obtain legal knowledge and qualifications.

27.13 Courses such as these in business and law can attract substantial numbers of students. The effort of establishing them is similar to that for an undergraduate course but, once running, they change only slowly from year to year. They are economical and cost effective. Because there is merit in the case studies used having local relevance, and because the particular nature and needs of the Hong Kong economy and society can readily be incorporated (for example an MBA focusing on professional business practice in Pacific Asia, or a law course offering knowledge of both the Hong Kong and Chinese legal systems), these courses are unlikely to make a great deal of use of internationally generated material even though it may become more easily available through IT.

27.14 Courses in the second category (state-of-the-art additions and updatings) attract only small numbers of students and are potentially ephemeral since the knowledge which they convey may in time move into the undergraduate syllabus. They are already very important, and are likely to become more so, but are expensive when provided entirely from local resources. The need for knowledge of this kind, however, is most unlikely to be confined to Hong Kong. There will be a worldwide requirement for the new expertise which although locally small will overall be large. We see great opportunities here for future economies of scale by the sharing of teaching material by electronic means. As part of this process, HEIs in Hong Kong should generate and sell material of their own.

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