Self-funded tertiary education options can create financial burden for students

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 04 August, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 15 August, 2012, 10:58pm


There is only a limited number of places available at University Grants Committee-funded institutions for those students who recently got their results in the A-level and Diploma of Secondary Education examinations.

This means that thousands of young people who actually qualified for university but did not get a place will have to find other further education options. They, along with those who came close to the entrance requirements, will likely enter self-financed associate degree programmes with a view to transferring into UGC-funded programmes later.

Though the government and educational institutions make this alternative seem viable, it is in fact an educational misstep and leads to a financial abyss.

The Hong Kong Community College website touts that more than 80 per cent of its 'current year graduates have articulated into bachelor's degree programmes', with more than '90 per cent being local university programmes'. How many of that 80 per cent entered UGC-funded programmes? For 2010/2011, statistics show that there were 11,365 associate degree graduates.

Last year, these graduates vied for about 1,300 UGC-funded places. That is an 11 per cent articulation rate. Whether universities intentionally mislead prospective students is debatable, but the truth is that few students can transfer into UGC-funded institutions. Most enter self-funded top-up programmes.

To pay two years of tuition for an associate degree and another three years for a top-up programme is a heavy burden. Families opt for government loans, expecting their children to find a good job after graduation. This is another misconception encouraged by educational institutions. Top-up programmes are titled differently from their UGC-funded counterparts, so employers instantly know which degrees are more impressive. The top-up graduates will have difficulty finding a well-paid job and they face an enormous debt. The government is to blame for these unrealistic expectations. It provides universities with the capital to start self-funded branches and students with loans.

We need a different approach. Before issuing loans, the government should better screen applicants. They must possess an academic background that makes them strong candidates for UGC-funded places. Also, officials must ensure institutions clearly inform prospective students what their chances are of transferring to UGC-funded courses, as well as telling them how many end up in top-up programmes.

Ho Kam-tong, Yuen Long




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