Graduates of a part-time Chinese medicine course are in limbo after the profession's governing body refused to recognise their degrees, despite raising no objection to the founding of the course six years ago. The 160 students are the first and only batch to take the course at the Li Ka Shing Institute of Professional and Continuing Education, one of the Open University's five academic units. However, the Chinese Medicine Council will not let them sit the qualification examination to become licensed practitioners because it only recognises full-time courses. The course was established jointly with Xiamen University in mid-2001 after the school wrote to the Chinese Medicine Practitioners' Board - a committee under the council - in 2000, spelling out its plan. 'The council did not object to our plan in 2000 and only told us that anyone with a recognised degree would be eligible to take the qualification examination. So we started the course based on that,' said programme director Ben Liu Chi-pun. He stressed that even after setting up the programme, the school repeatedly asked the council for more details regarding the requirements they had to fulfil so they could ensure their students' qualifications would be recognised for the exam. Dr Liu said they had no reply until 2003, when the school received a letter saying the course would not be recognised because it was not a five-year full-time programme. A Health, Welfare and Food Bureau spokeswoman told the South China Morning Post: 'The practitioners' board was of the view that in terms of the duration of study and the mode of teaching etc, the course fell significantly short of what was required [for an approved course].' Dr Liu said the remarks were unfair as the council did not tell the school about the five-year, full-time requirements before it set up the programme. 'In 2000, the council told us anyone who had a recognised degree could sit for the qualification examination. But it suddenly added more criteria in 2003. 'If we had been told that these part-time students would be banned from taking the examination, we would not have opened the course,' he said, adding that his students should be given the chance to sit the exam, even if they fail. Hong Kong University and Baptist University experienced the same problem, but their dilemma was resolved after the board granted their part-time students who took the course in or before 2002 a one-off exception to take the exam. The two courses later stopped enrolling new students. The bureau spokeswoman said the Committee on Assessment of Chinese Medicine Degree Courses under the practitioners' board considered that apart from the full-time requirement, the universities' courses fulfilled the basic requirements of an approved course in terms of teaching hours, subjects, facilities and support. 'The bureau cited the same items for consideration when approving their courses and ours, so why couldn't our course be approved, while theirs were recognised?' Dr Liu asked.