The financial crisis will inevitably cause many people to look long and hard at their careers and set new personal priorities for this year and beyond. For some that may mean a major change of direction, in effect starting afresh by taking a postgraduate degree that opens the door to a new life. 'Past experience has shown us that, in times of economic recession, people re-evaluate their careers and more want to study social work,' said Mok Bong-ho, head of the graduate division for social work in the social science faculty at Chinese University. 'In view of this financial tsunami, I would anticipate the need for social work will increase in the next two years.' Professor Mok explained that the university's master of social science in social work programme was designed specifically for people without a first degree in the field. Eleven required courses give students an understanding of social work theory, covering family and community problems, mental health, and growth and development issues. Conceptually, these follow the ABCD (asset-based community development) empowerment approach and lead to other core courses dealing with topics such as psychology, professional values and political science, and electives. Two modes of study are available - two years full-time or three years part-time. A key part of both is the requirement to complete two field practicum courses with local non-governmental organisations (NGOs), elderly centres or agencies providing family, children and youth or rehabilitation services. Students take on tasks to give them hands-on experience working with individuals and groups and on community-based projects. 'For example, they might be working on child abuse cases or be asked to start a group to help parents through counselling or family-related issues,' Professor Mok said. 'This part of the course is very important for integrating theory and practice and it is almost individually tailored for the students.' The programme serves as a qualification and professional entry point for anyone wanting to register as a social worker in Hong Kong. As such, it is popular with people looking to change their career, with more than 150 applicants for 50 to 60 places on the part-time course at the last intake and about 100 applicants for the 40 or so full-time places. However, it also attracts people in nursing, teaching, occupational therapy and welfare administration who want to broaden their scope. An alternative, usually considered by mid-level managers, is to take one of the 'job enrichment' degrees also on offer. These include MAs in family counselling and family education, social service management and social policy. The courses are more specifically for students with a first degree in social work, enabling them to keep up with the latest developments in the field and to have the skills and knowledge to meet changing community needs. 'Over the past 20 to 30 years, we have witnessed tremendous economic progress but also increasing social problems in Hong Kong,' Professor Mok said. 'A few years ago, the emphasis was on elderly services and poverty, but these days we are looking more at family violence and mental health issues, and we are getting more and more worried about substance abuse among young people.' He added that input from NGOs, government departments and agencies helped to determine what each course should cover. There was also regular feedback from alumni, social workers and the members of a special advisory committee. Wong Yu-cheung, associate professor with the University of Hong Kong's (HKU) department of social work and social administration, pointed out that accredited postgraduate programmes, leading to professional registration, entailed certain clear requirements. Local institutions might employ slightly different teaching methods, but all students must cover similar fundamentals. HKU's master's programme has 10 core courses, starting with social science theory and moving on to research methodology and practice. Students learn about key aspects of psychology, law, human behaviour, social services management, communication and professional writing. Subsequently, they can choose to do either two electives and a dissertation or four electives. An extensive list offers taught electives in subjects such as emotion-focused interventions, cognitive behavioural therapies, working with ethnically diverse communities and social welfare on the mainland. Recent additions include drama therapy and government policy. It is also mandatory to complete 900 hours of fieldwork, essentially on a voluntary basis. Full-time students usually do one block placement of about 450 hours and a concurrent placement of two days a week during their second year. Those taking the three-year part-time mode generally have to fit this commitment around evening and Saturday classes. Placements are possible in the United States, Australia, Singapore, the mainland and Germany. The department subsidises accommodation and travel and arranges on-site supervision. The university also offers master of social science programmes in behavioural health, counselling, gerontology, mental health, marriage and family therapy, and social service management.