New graduates are flocking to Hong Kong in greater numbers, encouraged by a more welcoming policy towards non-locals The ratio of non-local students, enrolling for postgraduate engineering courses at the University of Hong Kong, has almost quadrupled in one year, according to figures released by the Faculty of Engineering. Last year, around 23 per cent of students on MSc courses came from outside Hong Kong compared to 6 per cent the year before. Most of these came from the mainland while others travelled from as far afield as the United States, Britain, Australia and Estonia. According to Francis Au Tat-kwong, chairman of the Committee of Taught Postgraduate Programmes at the Faculty of Engineering, the rise comes partly as a result of the growing demand by graduates from the mainland and partly because Hong Kong is more welcoming to non-local graduates. 'In the past, government policy was not so friendly but I can see it is changing,' Dr Au said. 'I understand there will be changes to allow students to stay behind after finishing their courses and look for jobs here. 'This makes Hong Kong a more attractive place to study.' According to Dr Au, the University of Hong Kong is especially appealing to mainland graduates because of its close proximity. The chance to improve their English language skills and gain a taste of international education enhanced its appeal. The faculty has 11 taught postgraduate engineering courses offered by five departments ranging from infrastructure project management, structural engineering and transportation engineering to electronics, computer science and internet engineering. About 20 per cent of the students are full time, with the majority of these non-local. The remaining 80 per cent are part-time students who are already working in the field. However, the growing number of full-time students is proving to be a catalyst for change with the university now looking at ways to make the courses 'more friendly' to full-time students. 'Traditionally, we have catered for graduates working in the field and studying part time so courses are offered in the evenings. But if we get more full-time students we can offer more courses to suit them,' Dr Au said. 'We are constantly reviewing and trying to make sure our courses are kept up to date.' According to Dr Au, recent years have seen a shift in the popularity of courses away from more conventional fields, such as structural and infrastructural engineering, towards industrial engineering, technology management and internet and electronic engineering. He said the most popular postgraduate course was the MSc in Industrial Engineering and Logistics, which had attracted a growing number of applicants as a result of the boom in the logistics field. This increase occurred despite a trend which saw student numbers on other courses in the faculty decline following the Sars outbreak in 2003. This decline continued until 2006 after which the numbers had remained steady. Dr Au said the fact that the courses were self-funded and therefore not limited by quotas meant the faculty had the advantage of being able to maintain programmes when demand was low. 'We try to maintain all programmes because we know from experience a trend may reverse. A programme which is in low demand could become popular. If it does we still have the programme and can admit more students.' The Faculty of Engineering is one of the two founding faculties at the University of Hong Kong and prides itself on providing students with a world-class advanced education in engineering. 'That starts with the recruitment of faculty members,' Dr Au said. 'We try to maintain a world-class team of members and also engage leading practising professionals and renowned professors in engineering from other world-class universities.' Research played a key role in keeping the faculty at the cutting edge of its field, said Dr Au, with the faculty collaborating with industrial partners and encouraging students to undertake research projects. He said being the oldest university in Hong Kong helped boost its appeal to students. 'We have built up a strong network of engineering alumni and good ties with our industrial partners,' he said. 'At the same time we are young because we keep on reviewing and improving the courses. We are fortunate to have funding from the university, government and other sources to keep us up-to-date and active in research and improvements in teaching. We believe we are offering one of the best engineering educations in Hong Kong, and in this region.'