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PUBLISHED : Thursday, 01 February, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 01 February, 2007, 12:00am

AS HONG KONG moves toward a knowledge-based economy and lifelong learning, the market for continuing education is growing dramatically.

A survey by the School of Professional and Continuing Education (Space) affiliated to the University of Hong Kong, entitled 'Demand for Continuing Education in Hong Kong 2005/2006', found that 28 per cent of people aged 18 to 64 took continuing education courses in 2005 - 10 per cent more than in 2003. That means that 1.36million people were enrolled in part-time continuing education courses in 2005, up from 960,000 in 2003.

Those aged 25 to 29 represented the largest group, or 41 per cent of the total number of students, although participation in continuing education rose at all age levels.

Seventy-two per cent of all learners were full-time workers, or 79 per cent if part-time workers were included.

The most popular subject was languages, which accounted for 19 per cent of students.

Twenty nine per cent of students said they took continuing education courses for personal interest, compared with 23 per cent who did so to improve their work capabilities.

'This suggests a broader interest in lifelong learning than merely for economic benefits and positions Hong Kong closer to a learning society,' the survey concluded.

Shorter, non-award bearing courses were the most pursued category of programmes among learners, with 54 per cent taking those in 2005. Sub-degree level programmes followed next, at 30 per cent. However, demand for bachelor's and post-graduate programmes in terms of projected numbers of learners remained strong.

HKU Space is Hong Kong's largest provider of continuing education programmes, offering more than 1,000 programmes and with an enrolment of more than 110,000 students last year.

'Some of the stronger areas of growth have been in finance subjects such as accounting, management studies and financial planning, health and applied sciences, marketing and social sciences,' said Enoch Young, director of HKU Space, which is an exhibitor at the expo.

Space offers programmes at different levels, from short courses and certificates to degree-granting programmes and doctorates. 'The bulk of our students are in diploma and degree-granting programmes,' Professor Young said.

Diploma programmes typically take one to two years of part-time study, with an additional two to three years for degree programmes.

One popular new programme offered at short course, certificate and diploma levels at Space had been financial management for non-finance executives, Professor Young said.

He described Hong Kong's current rate of continuing education participation as 'acceptable but not high'.

'In the European Union, the average is 40per cent and in Scandinavia it's approaching 60per cent, but in many countries the government provides subsidies,' he said. 'I think we can increase the percentage here. I hope we can achieve 40 per cent in two years.'

The Hong Kong Securities Institute, another exhibitor at the expo, has seen interest in its programmes rise with the stock market. 'We see ourselves as a premier training and examination organisation and hope to be able to help students achieve their career objectives within the financial industry,' said chief executive Gary Cheung.

The institute offers study materials leading to licensing examinations for stockbrokers, futures brokers, bond traders and those in asset management and corporate finance.

'The majority of our students want to be stockbrokers and they want to pass the licensing exam,' said Mr Cheung, adding that student participation had increased 10 to 15 per cent over the past couple of years. A total of 33,000 individuals took part in the institute's training programmes, seminars and networking events last year.

At the YMCA College of Continuing Education, hot topics are accounting, business management, hospitality and tourism. The college offers diploma and advanced diploma programmes for Form Five to Form Seven graduates.

'Our accounting programmes are designed according to the requirements of the Hong Kong Institute of Accredited Accounting Technicians. If students pass the public examination they can become accounting technicians. But many want to go on to university for their bachelor's degree in accounting,' said senior programme officer Wing Lo.


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