In Hong Kong's highly competitive economy, people are very conscious of the need for continuous learning and self-improvement as an essential prerequisite for professional development. Employers emphasise the point and realise that future business growth depends on the younger generation, especially, having the knowledge and practical skills to drive new developments.
Recognising this, Hartford Institute Hong Kong, a well-established provider of higher education, runs a series of programmes for secondary school leavers. These consist of basic, advanced and executive diplomas in business administration, which incorporate up-to-date subjects like e-marketing and multimedia technologies. In response to the needs of different industries, the institute is also planning courses specifically for banking and finance, leisure management, and tourism and hospitality.
"There is keen competition in the job market and strong demand for practical work-based education which allows people to find positions more easily and to be immediately effective," says centre manager Danny Ho. The institute also plans to form closer links with a number of universities in China, so students can take business-related mainland degree programmes in Hong Kong. Hartford's parent company, Raffles Design Institute, has already established colleges in eight major Chinese cities to offer business and design courses.
"We see China as an important hub for education in Asia," Mr Ho says. "We plan to partner with some mainland colleges and will work out details this year. Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou and Huizhou are already in the pipeline." Popular programmes in logistics and entrepreneurship are likely to be among the first introduced.
Mr Ho sees collaboration with the Hong Kong government and major corporations as the way ahead. This will include providing more courses which complement on-the-job training and add value within the workplace.
Hartford was established in 1999 in Singapore and is now listed on the Singapore stock exchange. Besides its presence in Hong Kong, it has centres offering business management education in Australia, New Zealand, Singapore, Malaysia, Mongolia and Vietnam. The main mission is to nurture students to be future leaders and to meet the needs of the community. Currently, there are over 5,000 active students and, in Hong Kong, partnerships with universities in the UK and Australia, have made it possible to offer the choice of 14 master's degrees, two Doctorate programmes, and 12 courses which lead to a diploma or graduate certificate.
Each accredited programme focuses on maintaining high standards and is taught by a combination of distance learning activities and classroom lectures by local or visiting professors. Student assignments are closely monitored and credits are transferable to other universities and recognised worldwide. "The programmes are very international, which means there are fewer barriers for people who want, for example, to move between the British and US education systems," Mr Ho explains.
He adds that the flexibility of the postgraduate courses allows busy professionals to fit their studies around business trips and various family commitments. They can obtain course material online and, if necessary, take part in web conferences to discuss set topics or iron out any problems.
"Hong Kong people are dynamic and generally prepared to accept new challenges," Mr Ho says. "Many students now accept the concept of distance learning and the latest features, such as doing research via an e-library, corresponding with teachers by email, and using an online portal to substitute for a classroom blackboard." Since most students are trying to juggle course commitments with a full-time job, the institute tries to bear in mind the need to balance priorities.
Mr Ho has been impressed by the quality of candidates applying for the postgraduate courses and says their competitiveness is one obvious reason for Hong Kong's success. He admits, though, that the general standard of written and spoken English among those taking diploma courses is relatively low. "It is upsetting to see students aged 16 and 17 unable to express themselves well in English," he says. "Their standard is rather poor compared with counterparts in places like China and Thailand. To pass the diploma courses, two things are essential: knowledge of the curriculum and proficiency in English."
He cautions that if the government does not act to rectify the situation, Hong Kong will eventually lose its international competitiveness. The older generation benefited from the strengths of the British-style education system, but with many schools now changing to Chinese as the medium of instruction, school students have the chance to practise English as much, he says.
As a publicly listed company, the institute is answerable to shareholders and has to follow the best corporate and operational practices. This has been the basis for steady expansion in the Asia-Pacific region and had led to the opening of three new centres over the last 12 months.
- Institute provides diploma programmes and postgraduate
courses tailored towards the needs of the workplace
- Plans to increase cooperation with mainland universities
to offer their courses in Hong Kong
- Closer links with the government and employers will help
in devising a more practical approach to further education
and on-the-job training
- Postgraduate programmes include distance learning and
options for online study
- Students of diploma courses must recognise the need for
greater proficiency in English