Chinese University is taking the concept of student choice to a new level by asking anyone signing up for the MSc in computer science to vote for what they want to study. 'We have a poll every year to ask incoming and continuing students what kind of courses they need,' said programme director Leung Ho-fung. 'Student preference is our major consideration, so we send out information about the proposed courses and content, and the votes received are the main factor in deciding what makes the final list.' Professor Leung believes this method is unique for MSc programmes in Hong Kong and makes it possible to adjust quickly to demand and move with the times. He stresses, though, that other considerations come into play, such as the availability of teachers each semester and the need for students to have an appropriate combination of courses to graduate. 'We are practical and look at student requirements and what society needs,' he said. 'But the list is always changing and, if you look at the newer choices, you will see they are more service-oriented.' Recent additions include courses on computer crime and forensics, data mining and knowledge discovery, network security and computational finance. They have joined established favourites such as computer game software, information technology (IT) project management and advanced topics in software systems and computer architecture. There is a period of discussion and development before any new course is put to the vote. It may involve surveys, questionnaires, meetings of the faculty's advisory committee and input from industry representatives and alumni now running IT businesses. 'If we then believe a course is necessary, we ask experts in our department to propose and develop it,' Professor Leung said. The basic MSc programme structure is similar to the one-year full-time and two-year part-time modes. The minimum requirement is to complete eight courses, though students can take more at no extra charge. The university stipulates a grade point average of 2.0 for graduates and generally tries to allow as much flexibility as possible. Full-time students can also attend evening classes, intended primarily for those taking the part-time option. Mostly, the two modes cover identical material, but some evening courses, such as service-oriented computing, are intended to have direct applications in the workplace. Daytime courses might be more theoretical. Each course consists of 12 three-hour lectures during the semester plus an end-of-term exam. There are also seminar series with guest speakers from different areas of academia and industry, and the option of doing individual or small-group projects in place of a taught course. Supervisors or students might suggest project topics but usually original research is required, with progress monitored. 'We are very serious about the quality of the programme,' said Professor Leung, who teaches decision analysis and game theory, using some materials developed by John Nash, whose story featured in the Hollywood film A Beautiful Mind. 'Our university is focused on outcome-based learning, so we realise it is how much the student learns that really counts.' Those studying the MSc in computer science are able to take one or two equivalent courses offered by other Chinese University faculties. Depending on personal circumstances, they might also extend or shorten the usual time taken to complete the programme. 'You can say we offer the MSc as a service to the community,' Professor Leung said. 'If you look at the courses, they relate in some way to IT management, business and commerce, and decision analysis.' Instruction is mainly by means of classroom teaching, but professors actively encourage interaction and debate. While there is no official limit on class numbers, the university usually accepts about 40 per intake. Applicants have all kinds of backgrounds, typically ranging from technical jobs in the computer industry or information engineering to commercial managers, secondary teachers and recent BSc graduates. Applicants must fulfil a proficiency requirement in English and have a first degree with extensive computer-related content. Total tuition fees are HK$84,000 for either full-time or part-time mode, though this sum can be broken down into instalments per term. Reimbursements are possible for courses already approved under the continuing education fund scheme. 'We can see the government is encouraging people to learn more by providing this support,' Professor Leung said. 'And, after witnessing the dotcom boom and bust, it is good to see that the IT industry in Hong Kong is growing and developing in a healthier way.'