It is natural in these trying times for education commentators and analysts to focus on the need to take out 'academic insurance' against the uncertain road ahead. But - as with all insurance - the question is what kind and how much you are willing to pay. The big 'policies' - in this case academic masters' degrees and doctorates - require students to have already attained a certain level of achievement. But they are by no means the only options. There are MBAs, EMBAs, DBAs, PGcs, MEngs and LLMs among others. And postgraduate or further education is not just about academic study; many of the courses and qualifications on offer are vocational in nature, designed to add more strings to the careers bow. Without flexibility and options it is more than likely that employees and students of all ages will find themselves at the mercy of the changing world, in this case, we are told, one unlikely to change for the better in the short term as the financial downturn bites. But if it is important for professionals to equip themselves with alternative or advanced skills to either further their careers or be able to make a career change, it is just as vital not to lose sight of the fact that further study is often about learning for the sake of it. And, of course, knowledge is not just for young adults or mid-career professionals; it is also for the young in spirit, as 88-year-old Dan Waters shows (see page 10). Dr Waters, a firm fan of lifelong education who gained a doctorate at the age of 65 in 1985, is still learning. He continues to attend lectures on anthropology, sociology and history at the University of Hong Kong and Chinese University. 'If you keep working, it can make you stay young. Retirement with nothing much to do can make a person grow old fast. Retirement is an important part of your life. If you do nothing, it would be a complete waste of time,' he says. 'It's always better to wear out than rust out. Put it in another way: it's better to die from over-exhaustion than laze around and lay idle.' But whether, like Dr Waters, you are learning because you enjoy doing so, looking to advance your career or looking for a start in professional life, the purpose of this guide is to help you find the best courses to meet your needs and find trustworthy, reliable providers. There are many ways of pursuing advanced studies these days, from local colleges and universities to international and online services. There are those with a pedigree and newcomers to the field. Many local study centres team up with overseas institutions to provide a range of qualifications - from the MBA to the postgraduate degree - and we have made every effort to check claims and accreditations. However, we caution that readers should always make their own inquiries before signing up to any course. Postgraduate study has become an international industry and - financial downturn or not - is likely to continue to be one for the foreseeable future. It is a complex web of courses, services and providers, and if this guide helps readers find their way around them, provides contacts, answers questions and even inspires a new direction in life and study, then it will have achieved its purpose. Postgraduate Guide is published by South China Morning Post Publishers, 22Dai Fat Street, Tai Po Industrial Estate, Tai Po, Hong Kong, tel 26808888. It is ? copyright SCMPPL and distributed free with the South China Morning Post on November 15, 2008.