THE number of students studying at the Open Learning Institute (OLI) has increased dramatically since the institute admitted its first batch of students 51/2 years ago. The institute began this semester with a record enrolment of 18,515 students, including 2,906 new students. This represents a more than four-fold increase since the first 4,000 students enrolled in October 1989. Business administration remains the degree programme with the highest number of students - more than 6,000. Other popular programmes include applied computing, nursing, Chinese arts and humanities and education, with 1,000-plus students in each programme. Institute director Professor Gajaraj Dhanarajan said: 'The good response to our degree programmes in nursing and education has affirmed our direction to introduce more new programmes for in-service professionals. 'We will present the Bachelor of Education for secondary teachers in the coming October semester. Also in the pipeline are the banking and finance programmes and the Master's Degree in Business Administration.' Institute students represent a broad cross-section of the community. More than 70 per cent of students are aged between 26 and 40, with the average age being 32. The oldest and youngest students are aged 71 and 17. More than 90 per cent of students are employed in the private and public sectors. About half of all students have completed Form Five or A levels, while 30 per cent hold sub-degree qualifications. The institute's four schools provide a total of 22 degree programmes in arts and social sciences, business administration, science and technology, nursing and education. Eighteen of these programmes were validated by the Hong Kong Council for Academic Accreditation in 1993. Apart from degree programmes, the institute also offers two associate sub-degree programmes in secretarial studies and health services management and 12 certificate, diploma and higher diploma programmes in different discipline supporting its degree programmes. There has been a 24 per cent increase in the number of students enrolled in sub-degree programmes this semester. 'Higher education is no longer restricted to the intellectual elite of the population,' Professor Dhanarajan said. 'We are proud to be the first and only local tertiary institution to adopt an open entry policy.'