UNIVERSITY students aboard the 'Floating Campus' get more than a semester of academia; they get a 31/2-month lesson in life. The captain of the 18,000-tonne SS Universe, master mariner Chang Yu-ren, 67, said the voyage helped train children to be more considerate and mature. 'To be honest, most of them are spoiled. But after boarding the vessel and seeing impoverished countries such as India, they naturally start to grow up,' said the Shanghai-born captain who has more than 140 crew members under him. The SS Universe stopped off in Hong Kong this month during its 100-day 'Semester at Sea' journey. The 'university at sea' has a spring and an autumn programme. The spring programme starts in the Bahamas and stops in Venezuela, Brazil, South Africa, Kenya, India, Vietnam, Hong Kong, Taiwan and Japan. The autumn programme sets sail in Japan and then heads to Taiwan, Hong Kong, the Philippines, Vietnam, India, Egypt, Israel, Russia, Turkey, Morocco and the United States. The programme is administered by the Institute for Shipboard Education, a non-profit organisation. The students are granted academic credits through the University of Pittsburgh. Students can apply to miss a term from their usual university and study for one semester aboard the ship. For most students, the credits they earn can be transferred to their universities. The curriculum covers an array of subjects from anthropology and business studies to communications and the arts. The concept of a floating university was initiated by Hong Kong-based shipping tycoon C. Y. Tung, the owner of the Tung Shipping Company. He bought the Queen Elizabeth and renovated it, hoping to launch his first shipboard programme. But the vessel caught fire in Victoria Harbour in 1972, forcing Tung to replace it with the SS Atlantic. In 1977 the ship was renamed the SS Universe and it set out on its first maiden Semester at Sea voyage. 'We always hear from students that 100 days is not long enough for them and every season we have to turn down a few thousand applications,' said Dr Jill Wright, the executive dean of the 1995 Spring Semester at Sea. There were 493 undergraduate students aboard the ship when it visited Hong Kong this month. Most of them were from the US, but there were 21 from countries such as India, Norway, the United Kingdom, Brazil, South Africa, Peru, China and Hong Kong. The floating university is equipped with a computer laboratory, library, classrooms, a theatre, study lounges, darkrooms, students cabins and health clinics. There were 57 academic staff members on board. Jenna Robbins, a US student who took time off from the University of Michigan to study at sea, said: 'It is so much fun doing the programmes here . . . and they couldn't possibly test us on the other things we learn.' In addition to the 100-day undergraduate semester, an adult education programme is also run on board the ship for senior participants. Thirty-three participants in this programme were on board the ship for the spring voyage. Vanessa Mills, a third-year student from the Western Carolina University, said she had only one complaint. 'The course is too short. Three-and-a-half months is not enough, it should be 31/2 years.' The cost of the voyage for students ranges from US$12,195 (HK94,000) to US$14,495, depending on the type of accommodation they choose. Some of the students take part-time jobs on board the ship during the cruise, such as Ms Mills who took up a position in the computer lab.