Business is booming in Hong Kong - an upbeat comment that balances the economic doom and gloom that seems to have dominated headlines for months. And the sector where business is booming is education - and particularly postgraduate studies. Consider the figures: 800 new university research places along with an HK$18 million research endowment fund and five major research projects that netted HK$573 million from the University Grants Committee in its Areas of Excellence scheme. In addition, extra academic staff will need to be recruited to teach the extra year when four-year degrees are launched in 2012 and that could open up teaching positions for students completing doctorates in the period running up to the reform. Add in the government's plans to set up private universities and widen postgraduate catchment to mainland students and there is a very clear picture of expansion. The policy address announcement that education is one of Hong Kong's six economic pillars for development - along with medical services, environmental industries, innovation and technology, cultural and creative industries and food safety and product testing - underscores its importance in the region's transition from a service to a knowledge economy. It is great news for academia and those planning to pursue studies or carry out research beyond their undergraduate years. But there are other areas of study beyond traditional university years that are also expanding as Hong Kong develops on the knowledge front and they inform our theme this year: lifelong learning. Many adult and mature students pursue an academic path, whether to gain knowledge for its own sake or further professional skills but that is by no means the whole picture. Advanced vocational qualifications, postgraduate diplomas, business studies and other professional top-up courses widen the postgraduate arena to paint a picture of increasingly inclusive education in Hong Kong. Although the facts and figures above point to expansion and growth in education, it is ironic that many students contributing to that growth do so as a result of the contraction of or a negative ethos in other industries. Although there is evidence that the Hong Kong economy is gradually recovering, there are still companies suffering as a result of the economic turndown. Many people have lost their jobs and gone back to the classroom to gain new skills, while others seek additional qualifications. There is also an increasingly globalised element to advanced education. Postgraduate courses are now often run by local institutions in tandem with foreign and mainland universities and research can involve international partnerships. For the less specialised postgraduate student there are many opportunities to study overseas - widening experience as well as gaining qualifications. The aim of this guide is to offer readers options and help them make informed choices about courses, whether academic, professional or vocational, whether in Hong Kong, the mainland or abroad, in the classroom or online. Once again, we have made every effort to check claims and the accreditation of education providers but we always caution that readers should make their own inquiries before signing up for any course. Postgraduate Guide is published by South China Morning Post Publishers, 22 Dai Fat Street, Tai Po Industrial Estate, Tai Po, Hong Kong, tel 2680 8888. It is copyright SCMPPL and distributed free with the South China Morning Post on November 14, 2009.