In a bid to provide students with more hands-on work experience and put their theoretical knowledge into practice, the Department of Business Administration of the Hong Kong Institute of Vocational Education (IVE) has introduced the practice firms initiative. Under the initiative, students set up and run a 'practice firm' with support from a company, a teacher and a facilitator. The practice firm works in partnership with the company and gives the students an environment in which to enhance their business, technical and interpersonal skills. The students, who are not paid, undertake jobs such as market research, advertising products and buying goods. The concept of practice firms was incorporated into the curriculum for final year projects in July at the Department of Business Administration. For their final year project, groups of six students set up their own practice firms to work in tandem with business partners. The initiative was granted $1.5 million by the Quality Education Fund for the Development of the Hong Kong Network of Practice Firms project among secondary schools and colleges. The principal lecturer of the Department of Business Administration at IVE in Tsing Yi, Mandy Leung, said practice firms should be promoted in schools because both students and employers benefited. 'It's good for students to acquire work experience and put the knowledge they have learned into practice and enhance their employability upon graduation,' she said. Ms Leung said the practice firm concept was popular and had run successfully in countries such as Australia, where secondary schools, vocational institutions and tertiary institutes formed partnerships with companies to provide students with work experience. Business administration lecturer Terence Chan Chung-yip said education should not be limited to the classroom. 'Setting up a firm and developing a partnership with compa nies can help students run businesses and gain hands-on work experience,' he said. Final year students Chan Chi- hung, Chan Sau-kuen, Hui Tong- kit, Leung Chi-yuen, Yeung Yan- keung and Yiu Wing-yu set up a practice firm in partnership with Brilliant Hair Accessory Company. They worked as helpers to get more information about the company during the summer vacation. They also designed a Web site to promote the company's products and suggested ways in which it could improve services. Mr Leung said: 'The practice firm gave me hands-on knowledge about the basic operations of running an office and this experience could not have been learned in in the classroom.' Four secondary schools - CMA Secondary School, Hong Kong and Kowloon CCPA Ma Chung Sum Secondary School, HKMA K S Lo College and Sacred Heart Canossian Commercial School - have joined a pilot project to introduce students to the idea of practice firms in the next academic year.