Time management - from drawing up a manageable schedule to avoiding work-study conflicts - is an essential component of a part-time postgraduate degree. Unfortunately, the issue for many part-timers is that there is simply not enough time. 'Time management is very important. We need to manage our activities to fit into valuable time,' said Horace Yuen, a former instructor at the School of Professional and Continuing Education (Scope) of City University. Scope is regarded as one of the major innovators in postgraduate education in Hong Kong and offers a wide range of programmes. Around 20,000 students enrol each year, many of whom also work. Effective time management is of the utmost importance to them. A major issue in time management for postgraduate students is that the style of learning differs from the style they experienced while undergraduates. 'They do not learn from the lecturer's direct teaching, through slides or imparting information,' Dr Yuen said. Instead, the lecturer helps to stimulate students' thinking and reflection. Students attend class not to obtain information but to interact with the lecturer and classmates. So considerable effort is required to track down and read related materials. 'A postgraduate assignment usually requires research and reflection,' Dr Yuen said. 'The essence of time management is related to the planning of time use, personal habits and the avoidance of unfruitful behaviour such as procrastination and idling.' Peter Cheung, programme director for the master's degree in public administration at University of Hong Kong (HKU), said sound time management was also essential for postgraduates to strike a proper balance between family, work and study. Before applying for courses, students should find out as much as possible about the specific programmes, Dr Cheung said. 'You are strongly advised to discuss these with your prospective teachers or programme directors,' he said. Students also needed to be aware that once they started a degree programme they needed to be more disciplined in managing their time and setting their priorities. Discussing the matter of time management with family members or spouses beforehand was useful, he added. University departments view time management as a key topic during the interview process. James Tang, also an HKU programme director, said: 'We usually ask people whether they think they have time and if they understand it's a major commitment. The majority of our students manage, but there are some cases which make things very difficult, especially for those who have to travel a great deal or are promoted.' The bottom line is that, however accommodating universities are to individual needs, they have attendance requirements. Once on board, good planning is essential for time-pressed students. Professor Tang said students combining work and studies must take their work commitments into account, especially if there were peak periods at school or in the office. Although academic years are generally split into two four-month semesters, overseas study visits and optional summer courses eat up university vacations, so students should plan their time accordingly. Likewise, time-management decisions vary depending on the time of the course being attended. Face-to-face programmes, for example, usually involve regular study, roughly twice a week in term time. Other programmes are intensive and take up blocks of time. On top of official teaching time there is study time. As a rule, a standard module consumes three hours of class time every week and is followed by at least five to six hours of preparation and coursework. Although this century's students have a cushier deal than their predecessors, because they can access information electronically, they still need to set aside time for reading and planning essays. 'You need to think about whether you have boxes of time throughout the week and which evenings work for you, in which you can do your planning and reading,' Professor Tang said. Other time challenges are raised by the need for group and teamwork, discussions and preparation for seminars. As they require co-operation and communication between students, these course requirements can be a challenge. 'It is less easy to accommodate other people's schedules. People have to make allowances for this before they commit to a programme because it is quite common for people to work together and develop presentations or joint projects,' Professor Tang said. Local universities are generally keen to help students manage their time as effectively as possible. HKU has a host of electronic databases available in its library system which enable students to easily access materials or download references. Books and journals are also widely available electronically, while some teachers place background materials and audio-visual presentations on student portals for ease of access. Online communication between teachers and students is another widely used time-saving device. Local students have a reputation for handling time management well. Dr Cheung said: 'My experience is that our students are capable of managing their time, and this says a lot about the effectiveness and efficiency of Hong Kong people in getting things done.'