Pressure for places on faculty defies hi-tech downturn
Slump in IT job market fails to dampen competition for postgraduate studies in computer science, writes Chris Chapel
The University of Hong Kong's Department of Computer Science and Information Systems (CSIS) is holding an information session on January 17 to promote its postgraduate courses: the Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) and Master of Philosophy (MPhil) in Computer Science.
Applicants require a degree equivalent to a bachelor's degree with honours from the university, a computer science background and demonstrable proficiency in English, the language of instruction for the courses.
The CSIS faculty does research in a wide variety of high-technology fields.
Wang Wenping, co-ordinator of the postgraduate courses, says students' choice of research subjects within the institution is largely determined by the emphasis of projects under way in the department.
'If we have a relatively large group in, say, the database area, that might attract a few more students. They have to leverage on our existing strengths. The major research groups at CSIS include involvement in algorithms, the theory of computation, parallel and distributed computation, databases, software engineering, computer graphics and cryptography [information security],' Dr Wang says.
Other areas of research include the Internet, speech technology, computer vision, e-commerce, legal aspects of computing, artificial intelligence, multimedia and information systems.
Each postgraduate CSIS course requires students to complete a thesis and an oral examination in their research topics. Candidates for the PhD and MPhil degree courses must apply to the CSIS Research Postgraduate Committee, detailing the field they want to research. Once accepted, students follow an approved study course with at least one supervisor.
Demand for technology-related postgraduate training has continued to rise despite the fall in Nasdaq and the slump in the IT job market, Dr Wang says.
'If you look at the prospects of getting a job after graduation, the situation is not as good as it was a couple of years ago, but the number of applicants for postgraduate courses has been increasing. Many students consider enrolling in postgraduate courses if they find it hard to get a job after they finish their undergraduate studies.'
Last year, the number of applicants for the CSIS postgraduate courses more than doubled to 260 from about 100. Dr Wang says there are only about 20 positions available each year, but the university welcomes the bigger pool of prospective candidates.
'It is a very competitive situation, with only about 10 per cent finding a place here. From a quality point of view, the large pool enables us to select more talent. Hopefully, that is the case.'
Mainland students dominate the application pool, making up about 70 per cent of recent applications and accounting for about half of the postgraduate intake in the CSIS courses.
Dr Wang says the large number of mainland applications is partly explained by the tendency among mainland students to apply to multiple institutions. While mainland students form a large part of the postgraduate profile, local students have a natural selection advantage if they are already working with research groups at the university.
'When we consider our intake, we want to give emphasis to our local students, especially those we have graduated ourselves, because in most cases these students have been working with us. We know the quality. With mainland students, although there are a lot of people applying for the programme, we only aim at the best,' Dr Wang says.
The MPhil at CSIS involves 24 months of study on a full-time basis or 36 months part-time. The three-year PhD can be completed over 36 months full-time or 54 months part-time, and the four-year PhD can be done in 48 months on a full-time basis or 72 months part-time. Probationary periods of 12 to 24 months apply to all courses.
Full-time PhD and MPhil students are offered about HK$160,000 per year in financial support through postgraduate studentships.
The MPhil and four-year PhD programmes involve coursework - three MSc courses at CSIS and two other approved research courses. There are no coursework requirements for the three-year PhD.
MPhil students can apply to transfer into the PhD programme with the support of their supervisors.
The deadline for the main round of enrolment in the MPhil/ PhD postgraduate courses is January 31. More information can be found at the CSIS department's home page at www.csis.hku.hk.