Advances in technology have accelerated the development of new areas of knowledge, as well as provided new channels through which to pursue continuing education. In this respect, Hong Kong CyberU (HKCyberU), which was established in 2000 as the first local "institute" in cyberspace, has been an undoubted pioneer. It has involved a dual commitment: to provide online degree programmes for working adults keen to upgrade their formal qualifications, and to enhance competitiveness in the fast-changing e-learning market.
"We are constantly looking to improve our portfolio of courses by collaborating with renowned overseas universities and introducing their degrees in Hong Kong," says Vicky Lai, business development manager for HKCyberU. Besides increasing the number and variety of programmes on offer, a major part of Ms Lai's job is to ensure their general suitability for local students. That begins with maintaining close contact with current students and modifying course content and formats to reflect their needs. A "blended" format is generally used, combining on campus and online tutorials, since this is regarded as the most effective way of teaching and learning.
"Communication with our overseas partners is another crucial aspect," Ms Lai adds and the point is confirmed by Dr Geoff Cutts, director of corporate partnerships, Faculty of Arts, Computing, Engineering and Sciences at Sheffield Hallam University in the UK. "Ms Lai and her team keep closely in touch with Sheffield and we work together to fit the programmes into a local context," he says. "The programmes we jointly offer, such as the MSc in Business Intelligence, have been very popular among Hong Kong students who look for practicality in professional education."
HKCyberU's success to date has partly been based on adaptability and the same quality has been a hallmark of Ms Lai's career. While working in corporate development at PCCW, she got involved with the HKCyberU project when PCCW and the Hong Kong Polytechnic University (PolyU) started it as a joint venture. It subsequently became a wholly owned subsidiary and the online arm of the PolyU, at which point Ms Lai switched career to take on responsibility for business development in the education sector. "It is definitely a different culture in the academic world and there are specific guidelines for programme promotion," she explains.
Regional expansion is also posing new challenges for Ms Lai and her team, with the need to recognise cultural differences in Taiwan, Malaysia and China as they promote their programmes and structure their courses to meet the requirements of international students. "Fortunately, the good reputation of the PolyU helps us find the right partners who, in turn, give us the right local support," she says.
Speaking of her own career, Ms Lai highlights the willingness to learn about academia as a prerequisite for success. It is also essential for her to understand the mentality of the academic staff, since they must cooperate on matters of course design and presentation. As the number of institutes offering online programmes is on the rise, she emphasises the importance of keeping up with market changes. "We need to understand the positions of competitors in the industry in order to do well in our job," she notes.