'University of the air' concept pays off for OUHK
The Open University of Hong Kong (OUHK) was established in 1989 to offer education for anyone residing here who wishes to study on a distance-learning basis. More than 120,000 people have followed OUHK courses so far, and in any one year, enrolment swings from 25,000 to 50,000.
The OUHK was modelled, like many similar educational institutions around the world, on the British Open University. The 'university of the air' concept, with lectures broadcast over the radio and lessons conducted through correspondence, was championed by former British prime minister Harold Wilson, while he was leader of the Labour opposition, and described in a famous speech made in Glasgow.
The first open university was created by a royal charter in 1969, and the first students were enrolled in 1971.
The OUHK is a largely self-funding government organisation, offering distance-learning courses in a wide range of subjects from sub-degree to postgraduate level. Content is delivered in text and multimedia on paper, through the Internet and on CD-Rom.
Students come from all walks of life, which was the intention when the government set up the OUHK. No prior degree studies are required to take undergraduate courses.
'We are open - you can just walk in off the street and sign up,' says OUHK registrar Richard Armour.
'We do not exclude people at undergraduate level simply because they lack the requisite number of A-Levels. If you have only completed Form Three, we will sign you up. We like to think we can add value to whatever education standard you have entered with. That is our mission.'
Flexibility is another selling point for OUHK courses, with a credit structure that allows students to get through their course at their own pace until they accumulate enough credits for a pass.
Dr Armour says the university invests heavily in course design, calling on international experts to bring the latest information and techniques to OUHK learning materials.
'We hire some of the best brains in the world to write our courses. You don't get Dr Armour telling you what public administration is all about, you get someone from the John F Kennedy School of Government in the United States writing it.'
Course material is reviewed regularly to ensure it is up to date, especially with fast-changing technology subjects.
The OUHK is not entirely distance learning. Dr Armour says many courses involve face-to-face tutorials, but these are designed to answer students' questions rather than deliver class material.
Dr Armour says popular courses include business, computing, language and translation, social sciences and environmental studies. Adult students have also responded well to OUHK courses taught in Cantonese, such as the Bachelor of Business Administration.
In the next semester, starting in April, the OUHK will launch new postgraduate courses in multimedia and the Internet, mainland law (a Master of Laws and postgraduate certificate course) and teaching English to those who speak other languages. A Bachelor of Science and BSc with honours in computer engineering will be offered for the first time.
'These are new courses, but our most favoured programme is still the Bachelor of Business Administration. That is followed by a Bachelor of Education in primary education, then there is a descending list, all of which are courses with more than 700 students: BSc in Computer and Networking, our BA in Language and Translation, BBA in Chinese Humanities and BSc in Applied Computing.'
Dr Armour says the OUHK will highlight financial assistance packages at the Education and Careers Expo, and other aspects of life at the university.
'We offer university-funded scholarships, but these are based on previous course performance. This is like a donation of the university's own funds given to us by other donors. There are also subsidies, which are much the same. A subsidy is less of a prize, but it is a financial incentive to continue with your studies. We also offer various kinds of loans, including Pay As You Learn. Those are means-tested.'
The OUHK also has a deal with Wing Hang Bank that allows students to use the bank's credit cards to pay course fees in instalments.
For more information, visit http://www.ouhk.edu.hk