De­gree places ex­ceed de­mand — no need for out­sider quo­tas

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - COMMENT - H O L O K- S A N G

Hong Kong now has a greater sup­ply of first-year first-de­gree pro­gram places than can­di­dates qual­i­fied for ad­mis­sion into such pro­grams. There are roughly 15,000 Univer­sity Grants Com­mit­tee-funded places. On top of these the Open Univer­sity of Hong Kong of­fers 1,455 places, which are in­cluded in the Joint Univer­sity Pro­grammes Ad­mis­sions Sys­tem (JUPAS). Non-JUPAS first-year de­gree places amount to 7,751. All in all, there are 24,198 first-year first-de­gree places but 20,801 can­di­dates meet min­i­mum ad­mis­sion re­quire­ments. These are stu­dents whose Di­ploma of Sec­ondary Ed­u­ca­tion grades are at or bet­ter than “33222”.

It should be noted that the de­gree pro­grams of the non-UGC-funded in­sti­tu­tions have all been ac­cred­ited by the Hong Kong Coun­cil for Ac­cred­i­ta­tion of Aca­demic and Vo­ca­tional Qual­i­fi­ca­tions. The ac­cred­i­ta­tion process is rig­or­ous, re­quir­ing all pro­grams as­sessed to be not only aca­dem­i­cally sound, but taught by qual­i­fied staff, and sub­ject to cred­i­ble qual­ity as­sur­ance pro­cesses be­fore they bear the “ac­cred­ited” la­bel.

Leg­isla­tive Coun­cilor and Ex­ec­u­tive Coun­cil mem­ber Regina Ip, in a re­cent commentary on self-funded de­gree pro­grams, cast doubt on the qual­ity of these pro­grams, re­mark­ing that UGC-funded univer­sity places cost tax­pay­ers HK$250,000 a year, con­sid­er­ably higher than the HK$70,000 self-funded de­gree pro­grams cost. These fig­ures are about right but it should be noted that UGC-funded uni­ver­si­ties do not just teach. All pro­fes­sors in UGC-funded in­sti­tu­tions are re­quired to pub­lish in lead­ing jour­nals and other rep­utable out­lets. Of­ten these pub­li­ca­tions may not have much to do with the un­der­grad­u­ate teach­ing which is the bread and but­ter of un­der­grad­u­ate de­grees. I am not down­play­ing the im­por­tance of this re­search work. But the re­search du­ties of fac­ulty in UGC-funded uni­ver­si­ties mean pro­fes­sors at UGC-funded in­sti­tu­tions have rather light teach­ing loads. The fact that de­grees in self-fi­nanced in­sti­tu­tions cost so much less is largely be­cause teach­ing staff in these in­sti­tu­tions have much heav­ier teach­ing loads and much lighter re­search du­ties. It is true that most of the teach­ing staff in these fully rec­og­nized pri­vate in­sti­tu­tions may not be able to ob­tain or keep fac­ulty po­si­tions in the public uni­ver­si­ties but the rea­son is typ­i­cally be­cause they can­not pub­lish as im­pres­sively as those who can, and not be­cause they do not teach well. For ex­am­ple, I know of a fac­ulty mem­ber who has de­cent SSCI jour­nal pub­li­ca­tions and had a teach­ing ex­cel­lence award in a public univer­sity but still failed to have his con­tract re­newed.

Thus, even if these pro­grams fail to at­tract suf­fi­cient num­bers of qual­i­fied stu­dents the rea­son has noth­ing to do with the qual­ity of the pro­grams. There are just too few qual­i­fied The au­thor is dean of busi­ness at Chu Hai Col­lege of Higher Ed­u­ca­tion.

stu­dents. The ex­pan­sion of pri­vate in­sti­tu­tions and shrink­age in stu­dent num­bers mean most of these in­sti­tu­tions are un­der con­sid­er­able pres­sure in at­tract­ing enough stu­dents to make all the pro­grams of­fered vi­able, even though over the longer term things may look very dif­fer­ent when stu­dent num­bers rise again.

This then begs the ques­tion why should the spe­cial ad­min­is­tra­tive re­gion govern­ment main­tain a quota on the num­ber of stu­dents com­ing from out­side Hong Kong. One ar­gu­ment is that even though the SAR govern­ment does not of­fer the pri­vate in­sti­tu­tions the block grants to main­tain their op­er­a­tions, it still had pro­vided land grants. But as long as ad­mis­sion of over­seas stu­dents is not at the ex­pense of qual­i­fied lo­cal stu­dents, these quo­tas re­ally do not make much sense. Ad­mit­ting over­seas stu­dents ben­e­fits lo­cal stu­dents in at least three ways. First, they may make oth­er­wise not vi­able pro­grams vi­able, so lo­cal stu­dents can have the choice of these pro­grams. Sec­ond, they make oth­er­wise not vi­able cour­ses vi­able, so that lo­cal stu­dents can have a greater va­ri­ety of cour­ses to choose from within each pro­gram. Third, a more in­ter­na­tional at­mos­phere is a plus to the learn­ing en­vi­ron­ment. Lo­cal stu­dents can in­ter­act with stu­dents from other back­grounds and learn from them. Fourth, hav­ing more over­seas stu­dents will en­hance the stand­ing of the pri­vate in­sti­tu­tions, adding cred­i­bil­ity to the de­gree pro­grams in which lo­cal stu­dents en­roll.

For these rea­sons, I would strongly ad­vise that the SAR govern­ment do away with the quo­tas and in­stead just main­tain the re­quire­ment that pri­vate in­sti­tu­tions must not re­ject a lo­cal stu­dent who meets min­i­mum ad­mis­sion re­quire­ments in fa­vor of an over­seas stu­dent. This re­quire­ment is to­tally suf­fi­cient to pro­tect ad­mis­sion op­por­tu­ni­ties of lo­cal stu­dent. Re­moval of the quo­tas will also help pro­mote the Belt and Road Ini­tia­tive and will com­ple­ment the Belt and Road schol­ar­ship pro­gram that al­ready has been an­nounced.

It is en­cour­ag­ing to learn of the govern­ment’s pro­posal to of­fer sub­si­dies to lo­cal stu­dents to the tune of HK$30,000 when they are en­rolled in de­gree pro­grams run by pri­vate in­sti­tu­tions. If the govern­ment goes one more step and abol­ishes the quo­tas for over­seas stu­dents our lo­cal stu­dents will def­i­nitely ben­e­fit much more, and with­out adding any cost to the govern­ment.

A taxi crosses the dam at Tai Tam Reser­voir as wa­ter cas­cades over the spill­way fol­low­ing tor­ren­tial rains.

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