PUBLISHED : Thursday, 21 October, 2004, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 21 October, 2004, 12:00am

Financial hurdles are often the biggest obstacle in the way of mature students taking their education to a higher level. Aside from the initial cost of fees, part-time and continuing education students often find they need to cut down their workload to keep up with their courses. But many students are eligible for government assistance. Here are some of the schemes you might be able to apply for:

SME Training Fund

The Small and Medium-sized Enterprises Training Fund is part of a government funding scheme to support and enhance the competitiveness of small businesses. If you work for a company with fewer than 50 employees (or 100 for a manufacturing business) and the course you want to take is relevant to your career, your employer may be able to obtain a grant for 70 per cent of the fees, up to a maximum of $20,000. www.smefund.tid.gov.hk.

Tel: 2398 5126

Tax Breaks

Fees for classes working towards a specific qualification that could be used to enhance your employment are tax deductible. The personal maximum amount is $40,000 a year and this can be included in your personal assessment form for the same tax year as the fees are paid - but you cannot claim for fees for which you have been reimbursed. www.ird.gov.hk.

Tel: 187 8088

Continuing Education Fund

Launched in 2002, this $5 billion fund was set up by the government to raise education levels in the workforce to smooth Hong Kong's transition into a service economy. Only certain areas of study - including tourism, languages and design - are applicable, but successful applicants will be able to claim back 80 per cent of the fees, up to a maximum of $10,000. Applications need to be made before the course starts and the fees will be reimbursed once the course has been finished to the required standard.

www.info.gov.hk/sfaa/cef. Tel: 3142 2277

Means-tested financial Assistance

The government's Student Finance Assistance Agency has a series of programmes to support full-time students enrolled in a recognised course who are experiencing financial hardship or difficulties. Assistance can be in the form of a grant or loan.

www.info.gov.hk/sfaa. Tel: 2152 9000

Non-Means Tested Loan

Also run by the Student Finance Assistance Agency, these loans provide assistance to students of virtually every course, allowing you to spread the cost of self-improvement. Loans are repayable over 10 years following graduation/completion of the course, but can be deferred in case of further study, unemployment, financial hardship or severe sickness. www.info.gov.hk/sfaa/en/nls.htm. Tel: 2150 6222