When details of Cyberport were announced in 1998, the government said it wanted to include an academic element to the project. Local universities were invited to take part in setting up an academic institution for the industry, one that would provide state-of-the-art facilities for leading technology companies. The University of Hong Kong was chosen to establish the Cyberport Institute of Hong Kong, with the aim of providing high-quality IT education and training programmes to meet market needs. In order to be close to the market, the institute has partnered with five technology companies - Cisco Systems, Hewlett Packard, IBM, Microsoft and Oracle. The founding partners have been supporting the institute with hardware, software and courseware. 'We have a very close working relationship with our partners,' the institute's principal programme director, Chan Fun-ting, said. 'Some of them sit on our development committee to give us their valuable opinion and advice.' Facing keen competition from various IT education providers, the institute has been striving to distinguish itself through collaboration with the industry leaders. 'We are working with our partners in a focused effort to design an integrated curriculum,' Dr Chan said. 'We aim to promote IT development and application for the long-term interest of the industry.' The institute, located at Cyberport, in Pokfulam, takes advantage of the most advanced technology infrastructure. It also uses the in-town campus of HKU SPACE (School of Professional and Continuing Education). The first programme launched was the Postgraduate Diploma in Information Technology, which is designed for bachelor graduates from a non-IT discipline. The four-month full-time course aims to provide a fundamental knowledge of information technology. 'Graduates will be qualified for an entry-level technical position,' Dr Chan said. 'However, we do not forecast producing only programmers or systems analysts. 'We are more into training up talents that can contribute in all business positions, because IT is such a mandatory tool in today's business world.' Students who complete the four-month programme must participate in a placement project for eight weeks. 'They either work in an organisation or get involved in a self-planned project to gain practical experience,' he said. The founding partners provide support by offering placement opportunities. 'The jobs may not be fully paid but our students benefit by acquiring valuable experience for their career development,' Dr Chan said. The institute also organises periodic visits to different technology companies. Guest speakers from the industry are invited to share their insights and knowledge. 'What is most precious is that the founding partners give us feedback and market information so we can structure courses according to market demands,' Dr Chan said. The institute will be launching more professional diploma programmes with specialisation in knowledge management, network design and management and information system project management. 'Also, we will develop an e-learning model so that our students can study via the internet,' he said. The institute is working with other academics to gain wider recognition. At the moment, the postgraduate diploma graduates can continue to pursue a master's degree with some course exemptions. 'The master's degree course of Australia's Charles Sturt University does exempt courses of our postgraduate diploma,' Dr Chan said. The course is gradually attracting students. Meanwhile, the institute is finding ways to raise its profile. 'We are still new and lack publicity,' Dr Chan said. 'In the long term, we are committed to serving not only Hong Kong but also China and neighbouring countries. There are not a lot of ventures like this - a combination of a renowned university working with industry support.'