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Medium of Instruction and Assessment

Unless otherwise approved by the Senate for a specific course or program of study, English is the medium of instruction and assessment at the University. It is, therefore, crucial for research postgraduate students to possess an adequate level of English proficiency in order to (a) become more effective learners in their respective disciplines through the medium of English; (b) be able to disseminate their research effectively to an English-speaking audience and readership; and (c) enhance their educational and career prospects.


Adherence to the Curriculum

Each student enrolled in a specific program is subject to the requirements of the Department and the University. All postgraduate students must adhere to the curriculum of the year of entry throughout their program of study.

Students should ensure that they understand the curriculum requirements of their program and plan ahead to complete their program within the permitted duration of study. In case of deviations from School/departmental/program requirements, approval must be obtained from the Dean or the Dean’s designee. Deviations from University requirements must be approved by the HKUST Fok Ying Tung Graduate School.

Departments should, as far as possible, deliver the curriculum advertised unless due to special circumstances, changes to the original curriculum are necessary or advantageous.

Detailed curriculum requirements for students admitted in different academic years are published in the Postgraduate Program Catalog.


General Requirements of Research Postgraduate Programs


Spoken English Test for New Research Postgraduate Students

In order to ensure research postgraduate (RPg) students have the oral and aural skills for effective postgraduate studies and classroom teaching, before the start of their first term of study at HKUST, all new full-time RPg students are required to take a spoken English test, the English Language Proficiency Assessment (ELPA), administered by the Center for Language Education.

ELPA provides a useful assessment of the spoken English ability of those whose mother tongue or first language is not English, to determine if they can effectively perform Graduate Teaching Assistant (GTA) duties in English. The work of GTAs is an integral part of the training for all full-time RPg students. The duties assigned to GTAs may include direct class interaction with undergraduate (UG) students in the conduct of tutorials, assistance in laboratory sessions, and/or engagement in other UG class activities. It is important that RPg students who perform GTA duties have an adequate mastery of spoken English.

For more information concerning the design of ELPA, how to register a timeslot for the test, and how native English speakers can apply for exemption, please refer to the ELPA website.


English Language Enhancement Courses

Students who fail to attain Level 4 in the ELPA Speaking Test or who fail to take the test in their first term of study at the University are required to take LANG 5000 Foundation in Listening and Speaking for Postgraduate Students until they pass the course by attaining at least Level 4 in the ELPA Speaking Test before graduation. Students who obtained a score below Level 4 in the ELPA Speaking Test would not be allowed to serve as graduate teaching assistants until they have passed LANG 5000.

Departments may link the performance of LANG 5000 with the Postgraduate Studentship (PGS) rate. Students failing LANG 5000 may receive a 25% reduction in PGS.

In addition, some programs require their students to take and pass additional language courses as part of the program requirements.



Professional Development Courses

To enhance the educational experience of research postgraduate (RPg) students, the University has introduced a Professional Development Course (PDC) to provide them with a comprehensive set of essential transferable skills to enhance their personal growth and career development.

All RPg students (both full-time and part-time) are required to take two PDCs as part of their program requirements.

The University-level PDC, PDEV 6770 Professional Development for Research Postgraduate Students, is a course which is composed of a series of workshops and modules that must be attended before completion of RPg studies. Professional development training includes the themes of Professional Conduct, Communication Skills, Research Competency, Entrepreneurship, Self-Management, and Career Development.

To further prepare RPg students to excel in their future career, Schools have introduced discipline-specific PDCs to equip students with the knowledge and skills required for the development and advancement of their professional career inside and outside academia. In general, the course comprises at least 13 hours of activities in the form of workshops or seminars delivered by faculty members, guest speakers, or service units of the University.



RPgs as Graduate Teaching Assistants

The work of graduate teaching assistants (GTAs) is an integral part of the training for all full-time research postgraduate (RPg) students regardless of whether they are recipients of Postgraduate Studentships or scholarships. It helps prepare them for teaching-related work they need to undertake.

To strengthen students’ competence in teaching, all full-time RPg students admitted in 2019/20 and thereafter are required to complete PDEV 6800 Introduction to Teaching and Learning in Higher Education, a course designed to equip students with basic teaching skills and provide them with practical opportunities to apply their knowledge and skills in teaching. The course comprises two parts. Students will complete a 10-hour training offered by the Center for Education Innovation (CEI) for Part 1, and perform instructional delivery to be assigned by the respective Departments for Part 2. MPhil students are required to give at least one 30-minute session of instructional delivery in front of a group of students for one term. PhD students are required to give at least one such session each in two different terms.

RPg students may be assigned GTA duties during the course of study at the University. Such duties may include marking and grading of assignments, helping course instructors conduct tutorials and/or laboratory sessions, answering questions/queries from students, and/or helping prepare class materials among other tasks. These assignments are limited to 36 effective hours per month on average. “Effective hours” include both contact hours and preparation time. In the case of research-related duties, if the duties performed by an RPg are directly related to his/her own thesis research or project, the 36-hour limit should not apply.

For this kind of work, students need to have a thorough understanding of the subject area being dealt with. They are also exposed to varied situations where they can acquire and improve transferable skills which will be useful to them in the long term. The range of skills involved includes time management, communication skills, group discussion techniques, techniques for conducting materials or information searches, writing skill, critical thinking skills and organization skills.

Graduate Teaching Assistant Coordinators (TACs) are experienced GTAs chosen by Departments to work as a bridge between GTAs, the Department/School and the University; their job is to help co-ordinate GTA-related matters.

Newly-admitted non-local RPg students who are unfamiliar with the local environment will normally not be assigned any GTA duties during their first term of study at the University.



Thesis Research

Research postgraduate (RPg) programs focus on original research by the students. In addition to coursework requirements, RPg students will undertake thesis research under the direction of their thesis supervisors.

Please refer to the following guidelines on thesis research for details:

  1. Guide on Thesis Supervision
  2. Guidelines on Thesis Preparation
  3. Guidelines on MPhil Thesis Examination Committees
  4. Guidelines on PhD Thesis Examination Committees
  5. Guidelines for Scheduling, Preparing for and Executing MPhil Thesis Examinations
  6. Guidelines for Scheduling, Preparing for and Executing PhD Thesis Examinations
  7. Guidelines on Conducting MPhil and PhD Thesis Examinations



PhD Qualifying Examination

Students enrolled in PhD programs are required to pass a qualifying examination within a stipulated period in order to obtain PhD candidacy. The qualifying examination may be conducted through the oral or written mode, or both. Those who fail the qualifying examination after two attempts are not allowed to continue with their doctoral studies. Individual programs may have stipulations concerning the timeframe that students should take the qualifying examination and when the qualifying examination should be retaken in the case of failure in the first attempt.