Shorter, cheaper alternatives may encourage workers to study without having to make an extensive commitment INCREASED OPTIONS will be available to school leavers or seasoned employees who want to pursue a sub-degree qualification while working. Part-time programmes have not faded from the scene, although institutions have flocked to introduce full-time associate degree programmes since 2000 in response to Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa's call to raise the percentage of young people with access to tertiary education to 60 per cent this decade. The City University of Hong Kong's Community College is offering part-time courses in areas including business administration in accounting, business in general management, translation and interpretation, social work, bilingual communication studies and Web technology. They normally take three years to complete, at a cost of $90,000. The college will launch more than 10 relatively short programmes in September equivalent to half or a quarter of an associate degree to cater for those who cannot afford the time or costs involved in taking a full-time or part-time programme. Among them will be one on ecotourism, according to college principal Jennifer Ng Glok-hong. 'The short programmes will provide an alternative option to people who do not want to make an extensive commitment. It is always more difficult to recruit students for part-time associate degree courses,' she said. 'The future graduates of the short courses can always come back and finish their sub-degree or degree on a full-time or part-time basis.' The only part-time sub-degree course offered by Polytechnic University - the higher diploma in hotel and tourism management - serves the professional needs of aspiring staff in the hotel, catering and airline industries. With classes held during the day, it enables the staff to upgrade their academic qualifications on their days off. 'There is market demand for our graduates,' said Benny Chan Man-leong, programme leader for the course. Some of the course's 200 students are already working at supervisory or managerial level, but with only Form Five qualifications. Most of the part-timers are older than 25, with some between 40 and 50. They attend classes with full-time students from PolyU's School of Hotel and Tourism Management. 'It is beneficial for both types of students to be studying together, since the ones working can share up-to-date information about the industry with the others. On the other hand, the full-time students can help the working people with library research or preparing for examinations,' Mr Chan said. The part-timers can finish their studies within three to six years. 'This is a formal qualification and graduates can move on to degree studies,' Mr Chan said. 'But there are few part-time day programmes in Hong Kong. The government should review the existing provision of sub-degree courses to allow more people to further their studies while working. What's the point of talking about lifelong learning if there are no such opportunities?' Other institutions are trying to fill the gap. A spokesman for the Hong Kong College of Technology, which is offering a part-time associate degree in social work, said it would increase its part-time offerings for Form Five and Form Seven graduates in the coming academic year. Further details would be announced soon. The Open University of Hong Kong is offering higher diploma courses in areas such as digital communication, engineering design and psychology. The various institutions run by the Vocational Training Council are offering evening higher diploma courses in nine disciplines, including business management and applied science. The module-based courses can be completed in two to five years. Like those in associate degree programmes, higher diploma graduates are entitled to an exemption from the first or second year of study at local and some overseas universities. Several universities - including Leeds Metropolitan and Northumbria universities, the University of London's Queen Mary College and Australia's RMIT - run top-up degree programmes for Vocational Training Council graduates in Hong Kong, according to spokesman Lui Hong.