Show me the money
Turning your back on the office and a regular wage to return to the world of lectures, assignments and knuckling down in the library can be a life-changing experience, and the costs involved only add to the potential trauma. Even part-time postgraduate study can put a considerable strain on personal finances.
Money may not be the easiest thing to lay your hands on in the current financial climate, but if you know where to look, there are still sources of assistance to ease the strain on the purse strings.
Working out how to pay for your course can be as trying a task as determining what course you want to study and where you want to study it. Tuition fees for some courses, particularly executive education, can run into six figures so it is essential you begin your search as early as possible.
The government may well be the first source to leap to mind if you are studying locally, but this is unlikely to cover the full costs of a postgraduate course. To avoid study leading to bankruptcy, you may need to cast your net further.
The Continuing Education Fund allows eligible candidates to claim back 80 per cent of tuition fees for suitable courses, up to a maximum of HK$10,000.
University graduates have been able to apply for the bursary since 2003, and a limited number of master's courses are now included in the list of recognised programmes. Although most programmes charge well in excess of that figure, all students know that every little bit helps.
The Home Affairs Bureau's website provides information on local trust funds with grants and bursaries for postgraduate students. Some of these are applicable to non-local programmes, including the Li Po Chun Charitable Trust Fund and the Sir Robert Black Trust Fund.
Students planning to head overseas may be well advised to look for non-local sources of assistance. A simple internet search uncovers literally millions of scholarship-related websites. There are more than 1,700 listed on the Internationalscholarships.com website alone.
Destination nations are also a great source of support. In this globalised age, competition for promising international students is keen, and many governments are willing to meet tuition and even travel costs in some cases - for a lucky few at least.
The British Council has just announced the 'largest British scholarships scheme ever launched in Hong Kong' with a package of awards to celebrate its 60th anniversary here. These are worth a total of #545,000 (HK$6.8 million), but stretch over secondary education to postgraduate. The awards, which are tied to individual institutions, counter earlier fears that funding for the Chevening Scholarships was due to be scaled back considerably. The prestigious Chevening grants have been handed out to just under 500 postgraduate students from Hong Kong and Macau since the scheme was established in 1996.
The Endeavour scholarships from the Australian government brighten the prospect of a course of study down under. Worth up to A$158,000 (HK$800,000) for a three-year course, the grants include tuition fees, a living allowance and travelling expenses. Endeavour Research Fellowships and Endeavour Australia Cheung Kong Research Fellowships are also available for research students, to the lesser tune of A$23,500. Individual Australian states also make research grants to international students.
Japan's ministry of education, culture, sports, science and technology offers a specific set of awards for Hong Kong and Macau students.
Aside from undergraduate scholarships, the research grant runs for 18 months to two years, providing students under 35 with a monthly allowance of 170,000 yen (HK$13,300). Language students can also apply for a monthly bursary of 134,000 yen, for one year.
Canada and the US also provide government scholarships for overseas postgraduate students, as do many other developed nations. In a number of European countries, including France and Germany, university courses are more heavily subsidised by the government, meaning fees are less daunting.
Individual universities often have their own scholarship programmes, largely funded through private donations. By and large, these are awarded for academic merit as tertiary institutions scrabble over the best and brightest brains. That is not always the case, however, as some are aimed at specific causes or groups.
Scholarships for minority groups - ethnic, gender or sexual preference - are common, particularly in the US. The US-based Online Education Database (www.oedb.org) even lists a US$1,000 scholarship for left-handed students - the Frederick and Mary Buckley Scholarship at Juniata College in Pennsylvania.
Applying for a scholarship can be a tricky business, and timing is all important. Deadlines tend to be many months or even more than a year in advance of your intended start date.
Many scholarship programmes get overwhelmed with applications and require plenty of time to assess all the candidates. Interviews may be required, particularly for those bursaries that aim for social change and want to ensure the money goes to a positive role model.
Plan early would be a good motto, and one that would serve well through the rest of your study.