Easing the financial burden
With the global financial system still in a shaky state, many professionals continue to turn to postgraduate study to boost their prospects, despite some improvement in the Hong Kong economy. For those who study in uncertain times, it is important to know where to get financial assistance so that the benefits of gaining a good qualification are not jeopardised by deteriorating personal finances.
Even part-time postgraduate study involves considerable costs, which add to the challenge of returning to study for professionals grown accustomed to the working life. Fortunately, various kinds of financial help are available to lighten the burden.
The government's Continuing Education Fund, which allows candidates for designated master's programmes to claim back 80 per cent of fees up to a maximum of HK$10,000, is the first port of call for most postgraduate students. Those in the small number of publicly funded postgraduate programmes that are still offered by Hong Kong's 11 public tertiary institutions are eligible for the Tertiary Student Finance Scheme. This provides a means-tested grant that covers the full tuition fee, plus a means-tested loan or a non-means-tested loan - of up to HK$37,250 in 2010-11 - to cover living expenses.
The non-means-tested loan is also available for designated self-financed programmes and part-time courses.
High-achieving students can also consider applying for the Hong Kong PhD Fellowship Scheme set up last year by the Research Grants Council. There are about 135 fellowships available per year, with successful applicants receiving a monthly stipend of HK$20,000 plus an annual travel allowance of HK$10,000 for up to three years. The awards are open to local applicants, international and mainland students.
In addition to government financial assistance schemes, the range of targeted scholarships offered by universities and charitable foundations has increased, after the government's matching grant scheme brought in HK$6.9 billion in extra private donations for universities. The scheme was set up in 2002 to promote a culture of educational philanthropy in Hong Kong.
Baptist University is offering up to 27 postgraduate scholarships for applicants who meet the academic requirements and other criteria stipulated by individual donors. Some are discipline-specific, such as the Dr & Mrs Hung Hin Shiu Chinese medicine postgraduate scholarship, the Hong Kong Science and Technology Parks exchange awards, the Wilfred Ng Sports Scholarship and Hong Kong Institute of Certified Public Accountants' postgraduate scholarship.
Chinese University administers more than 40 overseas scholarships and awards - many restricted to its own students and alumni - for study in countries including Britain, France and Japan. Among them are at least three awards that are open to applicants from other Hong Kong universities.
The US government-backed Fulbright scholarship programme normally fully funds a period of research at a major US university, often one year of a PhD.
The Rhodes Trust grants one scholarship a year for postgraduate study at the University of Oxford, including all fees, air travel and a living allowance, currently ?11,730 (HK$146,000).
The Hong Kong Association of University Women's annual postgraduate scholarships, which provide HK$20,000 plus a certificate, are aimed at women graduates with the potential to undertake high-quality research projects.
There are several other major scholarships provided by charitable foundations that are available to graduates of any Hong Kong university for further study in the city or abroad.
The Croucher Foundation of Hong Kong offers three-year research studentships of HK$50,000 per year for PhD studies in science, medicine and technology at universities in Hong Kong. It also offers scholarships that cover fees, full living expenses and air fares for those studying for a doctorate abroad at approved institutions. The entry requirements are a first-class degree or MPhil.
The Drs Richard Charles and Esther Yewpick Lee Charitable Foundation provides three R.C. Lee centenary scholarships per year for young local graduates applying for doctoral, master's or bachelor's level study at an overseas institution of their choice. The awards cover tuition fees, accommodation costs, living expenses, books, incidental expenses, return air fare and travel allowances during the holidays.
Another award for graduates aiming to study abroad is the Li Po Chun Charitable Trust Fund - Overseas Postgraduate Study and Professional Training Scholarship, which has a maximum value of HK$120,000.
Sir Edward Youde Memorial Fellowships, which provide a one-off grant of HK$30,000, are available to students taking research postgraduate programmes at publicly funded universities in Hong Kong.
Candidates who are already receiving other forms of academic financial assistance are eligible.
The fellowships are offered by the Sir Edward Youde Memorial Fund, which also provides postgraduate fellowships and scholarships for disabled students.
Most scholarship schemes require candidates to secure a nomination for the award from their undergraduate school or department.
For Hong Kong students aiming to study abroad, a wide range of scholarships is available linked to study in particular countries. One of the best known is the Chevening Scholarships Programme funded by Britain's Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO), which covers tuition fees up to GBP14,000 (HK$176,000) at any British university, flights to and from Britain and a contribution towards living costs.
The number of awards, their value and the regions to be targeted for the 2011-12 scheme are under review after the FCO's scholarship budget was cut by GBP10 million to GBP15.55 million in June. Details will be announced by the end of December.
The Chevening scholarships are administered by the British Council, which also hands out a number of awards that are specific to individual universities. Australia also has scholarship programmes for which Hong Kong students are eligible. Funded by the Australian government, the Endeavour Postgraduate Awards provide financial support to international students who undertake postgraduate study at the master's or PhD level in any discipline.
www.sfaa.gov.hk/eng/scholar/scholar_seymf.htm - Sir Edward Youde Memorial Scholarships
www.sfaa.gov.hk/eng/scholar/scholar_other.htm - Other government scholarships
www.sfaa.gov.hk/eng/schemes/tsfs.htm - Tertiary Student Finance Scheme
www.sfaa.gov.hk/cef/intro.htm - Continuing Education Fund
www.deewr.gov.au/International/EndeavourAwards/Pages/Home.aspx - Australia's Endeavour Awards
www.britishcouncil.org/hongkong-education-scholarships-chevening.htm - Chevening scholarships
www.croucher.org.hk/ - Croucher Foundation fellowships and scholarships
www.ugc.edu.hk/eng/rgc/hkphd/hkphd.htm - Hong Kong Research Grants Council
www.cuhk.edu.hk/hkac/mainframe.html - Fulbright Hong Kong programmes
www.rhodeshouse.ox.ac.uk/page/hong-kong - The Rhodes Scholarship