The IBCP: Your Vocational Route to University

Are you looking for the best curriculum to prepare yourself for a top university place or your chosen career path? Do you want to choose a college education that combines vocational and academic learning? Here’s everything you need to know about the International Baccalaureate Career-related Programme (IBCP), and where to study it in Hong Kong.
The IBCP: Your Vocational Route to University
By Carli Allan
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Which route is best for you or your child after secondary school? There is a range of options available to college students in Hong Kong, including A Levels, BTECs, the US-based Advanced Placement (AP) programme, the International Baccalaureate Diploma Programme (IBDP) and the International Baccalaureate Career-related Programme (IBCP). While strong A Level or IBDP results may be seen as the most traditional route to a university place, a more vocational qualification may suit students who know from an early age that they want to focus on a specific career path.

One such option is the IBCP – a less rigorous alternative to the IBDP that’s specifically developed for students who want to focus on career-related learning. It is an extension of the UK's BTEC, and can lead to university, apprenticeships or employment.

Where can I study the IBCP?

This globally recognised qualification was introduced in 2006 as the IB Career-related Certificate (IBCP) and then re-launched as the IBCP in November 2014. Today, 214 schools in 23 countries now offer the IBCP; in Hong Kong, there are six schools authorised by the International Baccalaureate Organisation (IBO) to offer the IBCP, including the English Schools Foundation’s Discovery College, Renaissance College, Sha Tin College, South Island School, Island School and West Island School.

Annual tuition fees for the IBCP are the same as the IBDP, ranging from HKD 140,700 at ESF’s Sha Tin College, Island, West Island and South Island schools up to $167,900 at Renaissance College and HKD 175,400 at Discovery College.


ESF's Sha Tin College is one of six schools to offer the IBCP in Hong Kong

What will I study?

The two-year IBCP programme consists of the following:

  • a minimum of two IB Diploma Programme (IBDP) courses, which are assessed by written exams
  • the CP Core, which covers personal and professional skills, service learning, and a foreign language
  • a research-based reflective project
  • career-related studies.

Students choose one career-related study option; the choice offered varies by school and can include art, drama, film and media, sport, culinary arts, business and hotel management. This element of the IBCP is very vocational and can include work experience, industry visits, talks by industry professionals and practical activities. Depending on the school, students receive a BTEC Diploma or a college credit; some courses also include industry-relevant qualifications.

At West Island School, for example, students have a choice of art and design, business, engineering, IT, performing arts, sport and exercise science; they are then awarded a BTEC Level 3 National Diploma in this subject.

Other schools offer the IBCP in partnership with an external study provider. For example, Renaissance College offers students four pathways:

Arts and Design programme with Savannah College of Arts and Design (SCAD) Hong Kong
Musical Theatre programme with Hong Kong Academy of Performing Arts (HKAPA)
Hospitality and Culinary Art programme with Hospitality and Tourism Institute (HTI) and International Culinary Institute (ICI) Hong Kong
Digital Skills programme with BSD Academy Hong Kong

IBCP students also choose two or three diploma programme subjects at higher or standard level that complement their career-related study. For example, a student opting for the SCAD course in Arts and Design may choose IB English literature and film studies, while a student choosing the BTEC in Sport & Exercise Science may choose IB biology, psychology and business management. These IB subjects ‘count’ in the same way as IBDP courses when applying for university places.

Other elements of the IBCP include a language, with options including Chinese and Spanish, and service activities that are very similar to the Creativity, Action and Service part of the IBDP.

Read more about the IB Diploma Programme here.

What qualifications do I receive at the end of the IBCP – and can I go on to university?

All students graduate with the IBCP, which is a qualification in its own right, similar to the IBDP. The career-related option offers a BTEC qualification, most likely a Level 3 Diploma, or a college credit such as a Savannah College of Arts and Design (SCAD) grade point average that equates to a first-year university course. The two or three IB courses that they complete can count towards admission to a university; students also receive a high school-equivalent diploma awarded by their school.

While some IBCP students may choose to move straight into an apprenticeship, others will take the university route. According to a 2015 survey by the International Baccalaureate Organisation (IBO), 87% of IBCP graduates in the US attended university full-time.

The IBCP is steadily gaining recognition as an entry qualification by universities in countries including the UK, the US, Europe, Hong Kong and Singapore. The IB subjects, the BTEC qualification and the Reflective project all carry UCAS points, and can be entered in the UCAS Tariff calculator for UK universities; in 2017, the University of Southampton was the first Russell Group University to formally recognise the IBCP. The IBCP is also recognized as equivalent to a US high school diploma, and is accepted as an entry requirement into some US institutions.


Renaissance College was the first in Hong Kong to offer the IBCP

Is there another vocational alternative to the IBCP in Hong Kong?

Standalone BTECs (Business and Technology Education Council) are specialist work-related qualifications, and an alternative to more academic GCSEs and A Levels. There are over 2,000 BTEC qualifications across 16 sectors and available from entry level through to professional qualifications at level 7 (equivalent to postgraduate study). Level 3 is equivalent to A Levels and, like the IBCP, is designed for people interested in a particular sector or industry.

BTECs are offered at only a small number of schools in Hong Kong including the English Schools Foundation’s King George V School, in subjects including sport, art & design and business.

In the UK, T Levels will be introduced from September 2020. Taught over two years, T Levels will combine classroom learning and ‘on-the-job’ experience during an industry placement of around three months; they will be equivalent to three A Levels. Whether T Levels will be offered by international schools in Hong Kong and beyond is still unknown, but it may depend strongly on their ability to offer industry placements.

Read more about the IBCP here.

Why should I study the IBCP?

The IBCP cohort at these schools is significantly smaller than the number of students taking the IBDP; at Renaissance College, for example, just eight students graduated with the IBCP in 2019. So, why should students consider taking the IBCP, a relatively new qualification, rather than the more established IBDP?

Here are five reasons to consider:

• it gives you opportunities to access further education, apprenticeships and employment in the arts, hospitality, business and IT
• it combines academic and practical learning
• the reflective project develops research skills and independent learning
• you can focus on the career path you have in mind
• the service learning and language development courses develop global and cultural awareness

While the IBCP is less academic than the IBDP, it can be just as demanding and challenging – and should not be taken as an ‘easier’ option. In fact, the IBCP can involve more independent study and a higher level of self-discipline and organisation.

Next: What do teachers and students think of the IBCP?

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