Those denied Form Six places could end up with a more valuable employment qualification as competition intensifies An increasing number of pre-associate degree places provides another viable option for Form Five graduates denied Form Six places. Indeed, with only 18 per cent of school leavers getting university places each year, it may not be worth the time, especially for those with fewer than 14 points in the Hong Kong Certificate of Education Examination, to repeat Form Five or study in Form Six. Unlike the examination-oriented A-levels curriculum, pre-associate degree (PAD) programmes emphasise broad-based training and are articulated with associate degree programmes that have grown rapidly in recent years. 'When it comes to finding a job, a sub-degree qualification is better than Form Seven since it covers theoretical knowledge at tertiary level and is designed to develop students' generic skills very much needed in today's society. Universities are also reforming their curriculums to produce graduates with those skills,' said Ng Tak-kay, president of the student counselling body, the Hok Yau Club. Professor Albert Leung Wing-nang, director of foundation studies at Chinese University of Hong Kong, Tung Wah Group of Hospitals Community College, said language training was an important part of the programmes. 'We focus on strengthening students' foundation in Chinese and English, study skills, and social and personal skills. Apart from languages, the other compulsory courses include interpersonal skills and computer applications,' he said, adding that students were also required to choose from various electives, such as science, arts and culture, and digital design. The college planned to recruit up to 450 PAD students for its diploma programme in general studies in September, up from about 380 in last year, Professor Leung said. The increased enrolment was made possible by the completion of its new campus in Ho Man Tin, which would open after the summer. The new campus was 10 to 15 minutes walking distance away from its existing Mongkok one. He admitted that PAD students, paying a tuition fee of HK$37,000, came from diverse backgrounds and that some were not keen on studying. About 10 per cent of last year's intake dropped out but most who remained were moving on to associate degree studies at the college in September. 'Many are good students,' Professor Leung said. 'They adjusted to the new learning environment quickly. Unlike in secondary schools, they are not always with the same class of students, their timetables differ; they have more free time and are expected to study independently.' Baptist University's College of International Education is expanding its offers as well, with the opening next month of its new Shek Mun (Sha Tin) campus, equipped with a swimming pool and multi-media laboratories, in a gross floor area of 30,000 square metres. In addition to associate degree programmes, it will offer foundation courses for Form Five graduates with five passes in the HKCEE. Polytechnic University's School of Professional Education and Executive Development is targeting a similar group of school leavers. 'Our aim is to provide these students with a broad-based and holistic post-secondary education that will help them to adapt to future studies, locally or overseas,' said Adam Wong Ka-lok, programme leader for pre-associate degree at PolyU SPEED. About 60 per cent of the 242 students admitted to its pre-associate degree programmes last year successfully completed their studies. For its 2004-2005 intake, 181 out of the 188 graduates continued their full-time study in either local or overseas institutes, more than half enrolling in associate degree programmes offered by PolyU's Hong Kong Community College. 'Community colleges are popular overseas. Being less specialised, the associate degree training is a preparation for either further studies or employment,' said Hok Yau Club's Mr Ng.