It's best to do the homework early
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It may be a while since you have tackled such a task, but before embarking on postgraduate education, it is essential to do your homework first.
On offer are hundreds of courses in a host of subject areas, a large number of different providers, including both publicly and privately funded local institutions and those from overseas, and an increasing array of course delivery options, methods of assessment and time frames in which to complete a programme.
This list of providers and courses provides an initial guide to options at the postgraduate level in Hong Kong. But there are many additional considerations.
WHO: Postgraduate education is available from both local institutions and overseas providers. The latter usually work together with local operators or through their own Hong Kong office.
Postgraduate programmes offered by local universities go through a self-validating process. To offer some consumer protection, non-local programmes need to be registered with the government's Non-Local Courses Registry or exempted from registration by being conducted through one of 11 specified local institutions of higher education. Courses delivered 'purely by distance learning', where no local lectures or tutorials are held, do not need to register. The Non-Local Courses Registry Web site at www.ncr.edu.hk has more details. For non-local awards, it is also useful to check an institution's standing in its home country, particularly in relation to the field you want to study.
Rankings are a popular way of boosting a programme's credibility, but you need to consider how relevant this is in relation to your own goals. It may be important if you are looking for a postgraduate award to advance your career prospects, less so if you are more interested in knowledge for its own sake.
WHAT: As demand for higher qualifications rises, the variety of courses, both locally and from overseas, is expanding rapidly. These days, research degrees usually contain some coursework elements but the amount required may differ from programme to programme. Many at the master's and postgraduate diploma levels are designed to advance the skills and knowledge of working professionals and executives in the increasingly competitive, globalised employment marketplace. However, an award's usefulness may vary depending on the knowledge and background of a potential employer as well as a course's own standing. You may therefore want to do your own research on how acceptable a higher qualification is to particular employers and/or whether it could provide exemptions from certain professional examinations.
In addition, check the course content. For example, if you are thinking of a non-local programme, find out if it is exactly the same as the one studied at the home campus and if it differs, whether this still suits your needs or, indeed, is more in keeping with them. Then look at how the course is assessed. Some expect only written assignments, others require examinations. This may make a difference to your decision.
HOW: Certain courses offered by local higher education institutions have a full-time option, but most operators arrange postgraduate provision on a part-time basis to fit in with the schedules of working students. Delivery of such courses differs: lectures during the week or intensive block study; classes mainly at weekends or learning mainly through self-study or online tutorials. Some non-local programmes may mix teaching from the overseas institution with local tutors, others are taught totally by faculty from the awarding institution. Enquire where local classes are held and what other facilities and support services are available, in particular access to a major library for research. Find out these points first and then think what suits your schedule and style of learning best.
WHY: Perhaps most important, you need to establish the reasons you are looking for a postgraduate course - practical, self-development or a combination of the two - and how the studying required will fit in with your other family, work and social commitments. Some programmes, particularly at the doctoral level, may stretch over a lengthy period and all will require time, energy and self-motivation to complete coursework or thesis. The funds to pay for the fees, which can be a substantial outlay, must also be factored in.
Considering these issues ahead of time should help make your postgraduate venture a more enjoyable experience and a real investment for the future.