Forging closer links with trade bodies

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 11 July, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 11 July, 2009, 12:00am

Since crisis inevitably brings change, local tertiary institutes are taking steps to realign courses and rethink aspects of overall strategy in order to meet shifting student needs and prepare for the challenges that lie ahead.

'Because of the economic downturn, we have made some adjustments in our programme portfolio to meet new requirements,' said Jack Lo, director of the school of professional education and executive development (Speed) at Polytechnic University (PolyU). 'We have been in contact with a number of trade associations who want to upgrade the quality of their manpower, and we are putting more emphasis on helping industries which have experienced problems in the downturn.'

Dr Lo mentioned recent co-operation with the hotel and tourism sector. With average room occupancy rates down and a slump in inbound visitor arrivals, employers have been implementing flexible working arrangements, while encouraging staff to take advantage of study opportunities.

To accommodate this, the school has started to offer modules in relevant courses for part-time day release students. This allows individuals to make use of any additional free time and ensures that, when the economy picks up, hotels will have a better qualified corps of staff to rely on.

Dr Lo also said there were continuing efforts to work with bodies, such as the Chartered Institute of Marketing in Hong Kong, to make more continuing professional development activities (CPD) credit bearing. The aim is to extend the framework and mechanism that allows people to accumulate credits from industry-specific training that can count towards a PolyU-sanctioned diploma or degree. It brings a practical element to CPD training and provides a clear incentive for young professionals to pursue further education.

Dr Lo has few concerns about future levels of enrolment. The past few months has seen a jump in applications for almost everything from part-time evening courses to the EMBA offered together with the University of Birmingham.

'People have more time to study, so we will make some adjustment in our delivery arrangements and, where necessary, in terms of course coverage and programme philosophy,' he said.

Regarding the EMBA, for instance, that may mean greater emphasis on issues such as business ethics and corporate social responsibility. Looking ahead, there will be new programmes specifically linked to the six sectors highlighted by the government as key to future economic development.

'One possibility we are already thinking of is to develop a BA in art administration, but that is a bit further down the road,' Dr Lo said.

More immediately, the strategic plan is to undergo an institutional review and seek external accreditation to become a separate degree-granting institution. Ideally, the process will be completed before 2012 when the basic structure for local undergraduate degrees changes from three-year to four-year programmes.

'The ultimate goal is to become a private university,' Dr Lo said. 'We would still be part of the PolyU, but the relationship would be at arm's length. The government is still maintaining a cap on the number of UGC (University Grants Committee) funded degree places, so there is a lot of demand.'