The plethora of choices on offer for postgraduate study can often be overwhelming. Learners must consider programme duration and cost, individual universities' capabilities, faculty resources, relevance of electives, study modes, assessment methods and any available funding from employers or the government.
At the Hong Kong Polytechnic University, fundamentally integral and permeating the entire institution is educational relevance and the applicability of knowledge acquired in today's world. Such a practical approach to learning has proved a winning formula and it continues to attract a growing number of students ranging from fresh graduates to professionals with more than 30 years' work experience.
Chris Green, assistant professor and programme coordinator, MA Scheme in Language Studies for the Professions, Department of English, The Hong Kong Polytechnic University (PolyU), stresses the significance of academic relevance in today's business world. "Our MA programmes are incredibly practical. For example, in the MA in English for the Professions programme, we look at the effectiveness of real discourse in the modern workplace and analyse the use of language in specific situations," he notes.
The field of language studies also comprises programmes such as MA in English Language Teaching, MA/PgD in English Language Studies and MA in Japanese Studies for the Professions. Each of these programmes emphasises students' communicative competence and can be completed in full- or part-time mode.
The faculty's commitment to practicality is a far cry from the traditional syllabuses often made available to arts students. Josephine Koo, who is studying the MA in English Language Studies, believes she has made the right choice of studies. "Pragmatism is indispensable in any higher education programme," she says.
According to Dr Green, the importance of English in Hong Kong in areas like law, government and education has gradually diminished since 1997. However, the reverse is true in business where English has become increasingly significant and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future.
His point is substantiated by empirical research carried out by academics at PolyU's Research Centre for Professional Communication in English, which examines the evolution of English and its contemporary usage in the workplace. "The findings of research are ultimately incorporated into our teaching with the result being that students can visualise an improved image of their workplace which can be tremendously motivating," Dr Green explains.
Special features of the programmes include core systems of the language such as grammar, semantics, discourse and phonology. However, in addition to ensuring students develop a solid foundation, also on offer are elective subjects allowing participants to branch out into new areas of interest. An MA in English Language Teaching combined with an elective in Japanese culture is an option, for example. Dr Green notes that students find such flexibility stimulating both academically and personally because networking possibilities increase when students come together with others learning different core subjects.
Regarding student intake, Dr Green emphasises both the width and breadth of participant diversity, noting that this creates an overall experiential improvement for learners, as exposure to best practice and accumulated knowledge from professionals representing a cross section of industries are manifold. Ann Law, an MA in English Language Teaching student with many years of teaching experience in Hong Kong, underlines two reasons why she began the full-time programme. "I wanted a break after 30 years in the teaching profession but I also wanted exposure to the latest methodologies and techniques so I can stay at the forefront of the industry," she says.
Improving discourse is core to all four MA programmes and students are reaping the benefits of the improved interaction skills they regularly practise in the classroom. Fresh from mainland China, Phyllis Cai, an MA in English Language Studies student who already has a bachelor's degree in accountancy notes, "The most important element in any English language programme is interaction." She adds that a well-structured programme ensures students draw on their linguistic and presentation resources. As such, student-led seminars are a key feature of PolyU's programmes and these are monitored and graded by faculty who offer a comprehensive critique of students' input with suggestions on areas for improvement.
"Critique and grading is an essential component of the programme," adds Dr Green who has found that perfecting communication in English is an ongoing and cyclical process. "Our research centre analyses everyday language in Hong Kong and we incorporate that reality into our teaching so students can practise authentic language which they can use in the workplace immediately."