Hong Kong is renowned for its building expertise. But sensing the demand for official government recognition of housing professionals, City University launched a master of arts in housing studies programme in 2006, aimed at equipping Hong Kong housing experts with specialist knowledge and qualifications. 'The Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome back in 2003 and H1N1 this year exposed the need for housing expertise to ensure hygiene and property maintenance,' said programme leader, Yip Ngai-ming. 'As urban decay is rapid in the heart of the city, the need for housing management, inspection, maintenance and renewal have created a need for this programme.' The programme is targeted at local and non-local practicing housing managers whose previous training was not in the field of housing studies. It aims to provide knowledge of housing management at a master's level, offering understanding in lieu of social, political, economic, physical and legal institutions. It also hopes to enhance the skills to sustain and advance the profession. The programme is taught in part-time mode during two weekday evenings and occasionally on weekends in addition to two summer semesters stretched across 24 months. It comprises nine core courses and elective courses offered by four different departments - the department of public and social administration, the department of building and construction, the school of law and the college of business. Core courses include contemporary issues in housing management for Hong Kong and the mainland, building service systems and maintenance for housing managers, legal studies for the built environment, international housing finance and economics and research methods for housing studies. Students can choose from an extensive range of electives offered by other departments. Among the choices, Dr Yip said that the built/natural environmental harmony course is one of the students' favourite choices. 'It is about scientific fung shui and how to manage housing from a fung shui point of view. It must not be superstitious. For example, to acquire sufficient sunlight is a matter of health, and to put plants in the lobby creates a better mood.' The course emphasises an integration of theory and practice. Academics and senior practitioners are invited to join in teaching activities. The programme is delivered through lectures, student-centred seminars, small group tutorials and student-led research projects. One elective involves a study tour overseas; it is perhaps one of the most practical parts of the course. The course titled Management Bloc and Residential has arranged visits for students to Shanghai, Macau and Taiwan in the past. 'It is also a working visit,' Dr Yip said. 'Apart from it being a real-life situation, training in a closed area, the students can interact with housing experts in the country, this helps them to understand the housing situation of the place and to build good business connections.' Anson Au, a student on the programme who is graduating this year, found the course practical. 'I went to Taiwan and stayed in a hotel for about four days,' she recalled. 'I had intensive lectures, role play, training and field study there. Particularly as we were isolated outside Hong Kong with no other disturbance such as phone calls, we had a much more concentrated studying environment.' Another emphasis of the course is the Capstone project. This is a 17,000- to 20,000-word group report that seeks an integration of academic and real-life experience. 'The best work last year was about an investigation of the gated community of Fairview Park Boulevard in Yuen Long,' Dr Yip said. The screening process of the programme includes two interviews. A group interview of eight or so applicants aims to evaluate organisational and co-operational talent and an individual interview accesses interpersonal communication skills and personality. Dr Yip has advised applicants to ensure that their English is up to an acceptable standard and to pay attention to the latest news and current affairs and Hong Kong's housing policies. Preference is given to applicants with two to three years of related experience.