School leavers in Hong Kong generally face two choices: studying locally or studying abroad. A third option is growing in popularity, thanks to the increasingly flexible nature of the world's educational marketplace. Students can now cover the first half of an undergraduate degree locally and the second half overseas, obtaining their diploma from one of the world's top universities or from an exclusive liberal arts college. There are serveral advantages to studying in a foreign country. 'Those who study abroad have the opportunity to work with overseas students and probably improve their English standards much faster than those who study locally,' says Stella Yu, head of academic, Hong Kong Institute of Continuing Education. 'In a positive way, they will become more independent and more willing to communicate with people from different countries.' Not all students, however, are mature enough to go overseas immediately following secondary school. Another problem is money. Not all families can afford to send their children overseas to study for three years, or four if they want to send them to the United States. It is not just a matter of high tuition fees. They must also come up with living expenses, and transportation costs. Many children expect to fly home every summer, and air fares can add up. Ms Yu's advice for such students is to begin studies in Hong Kong and later transfer to an overseas institution. Taking this approach, students receive an associate degree after completing the first two years of a US-style four-year programme in Hong Kong. They then transfer to an American university, entering as juniors (or third-year students) of a four-year programme. 'This may solve the problem of higher tuition fees and accommodation charges,' Ms Yu says. 'At the same time, it can help students to get used to US learning styles before they actually continue their studies abroad.' The Hong Kong Institute of Continuing Education administers an Associate of Arts in General Studies and a Bachelor of Arts in General Studies in conjunction with Indiana University in the United States. Students can study on a full- or part-time basis. Studying full time, the associate degree takes 16 months to complete. Upon completion, students can continue their studies in Hong Kong or transfer to the university's main campus in Bloomington, which is ranked among the top 2 per cent universities in the US. A wide range of subjects is covered, with concentrations in accounting, the arts, business, computing, mathematics and psychology. Those studying in Hong Kong get the same transcripts and certification as those studying at the university's main campus in Bloomington, Indiana. The institute also offers programmes in conjunction with Benedictine College, a small liberal arts college in the American heartland. An Associate of Arts in Business Administration is available and a Bachelor of Arts in Business Administration will be launched in September. Subject areas include accounting, business communication, economics, finance, management and marketing. A two-week live-in at the college campus in Kansas is included. Evaluation is based on group presentations, quizzes and tests, assignments, projects, attendance, classroom discussions, and participation. 'We empower students to think for themselves, to thirst for more knowledge,' says Dr Daniel Carey, president, Benedictine College. 'Our graduates go on to succeed at incredibly high rates, personally and professionally.' Numerous other agencies administer offshore programmes for universities in the United States, Britain, Canada, Australia and other countries. The Asia Pacific Management Institute, for example, offers a Bachelor of Business Studies with Honours from the National University of Ireland. The programme, which can be completed in three years, comprises 18 modules covering such topics as general management, accounting, financial management, economics, organisational behaviour, human resources, business law, statistics and the business environment. Assessment is based on assignments (40 per cent) and examinations (60 per cent). Those who complete the programme receive the same diploma as those follow it in Ireland. They are encouraged to attend graduation ceremonies in Dublin, although ceremonies are held in Hong Kong as well. 'We are proud to make the BBS (Hons) degree available in Hong Kong,' says Dr Art Cosgrove, president of the university. 'It is a specialist degree widely accepted in the business world in Europe. Students have access to the latest thinking and practice in their chosen disciplines, and they have the opportunity to interact with some of the most qualified business professors in Europe.' With thousands of students enrolled in hundreds of non-local degree programmes in Hong Kong, the old warning of 'buyer beware' applies. Before signing up for a course, research it thoroughly to make sure it will help you achieve your goals. Look at the facilities, find out who is teaching the course and talk with students who have completed the programme. You should also make sure your degree is locally recognised. You can double-check with the Hong Kong Council for Academic Accreditation whether the course has been registered.