Healthy competition

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 22 August, 1999, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 22 August, 1999, 12:00am

I refer to the report headlined, 'Foreign students cost $700m' (Sunday Morning Post, August 8), which requires clarification.

In the past (1998/99) academic year, there were a total of 1,374 non-local students enrolled in the institutions funded by the University Grants Committee (UGC). Of these, 97 were undergraduates and 166 were taught postgraduate students, representing less than 0.5 per cent of the total student population at these levels, and 1,111 were research postgraduate students, approximately 29 per cent of the total enrolment at this level. This was as a result of deliberate policy decisions taken by the Government and endorsed by the legislature - most recently in the context of the approval of the triennial recurrent funding for the UGC-funded sector in early 1998.

Following a comprehensive review of higher education in Hong Kong, the UGC recommended, and the Government agreed, that the numbers of non-local students that could be enrolled in the UGC-funded institutions, and paying standard fees, should be increased. As announced by the Chief Executive in his 1997 Policy Address, the institutions can now enrol non-local undergraduate and taught postgraduate students up to four per cent of their target numbers. Likewise, at the research postgraduate level, the permitted proportion has been raised from one-fifth to one-third.

The increase in these ratios of non-local students is part of our policy to develop Hong Kong into a regional centre of higher education. This will enable Hong Kong to attract more talented students and distinguished scholars from outside Hong Kong, inject an element of healthy competition into the tertiary education sector, enhance the global outlook of local students and institutions, and facilitate the cross-fertilisation of ideas between different cultures. Moreover, as foreign students tend to develop an affinity with their place of higher education, admitting more such students will also result in cultural and economic benefits to Hong Kong in the longer term.

Thus, we consider that the benefits of our institutions accepting some non-local students far outweigh the current level of subsidy involved, which we would estimate would be $470 million.

I should like to stress, however, that no extra government funding is provided to the institutions for the enrolment of non-local students. Hence, their enrolment does not involve any additional government subsidy.

Moreover, since non-local students are not, like their local counterparts, eligible for government-funded financial assistance schemes, and the Government does not provide scholarships for non-local students, Hong Kong is actually not particularly generous in attracting non-local students. While I accept that some countries charge higher tuition fees for foreign students, institutions in these same countries and others also often waive tuition fee payments, or even offer scholarships and other forms of assistance to foreign students to cover not just their tuition fee payments, but also their living costs.

Hong Kong 'studentships' are available to both local and non-local postgraduate students. In general, students awarded such studentships (not all of them) are required to take up duties as teaching assistants or research assistants in their departments/faculties. The award of a studentship depends on the availability of such duties and the suitability of the student concerned to take them up. Moreover, in cases where such duties are considered as part-time employment, the students concerned, if they are non-local students, have to obtain work permits from the Immigration Department before they can take up such duties.

Our policy is both fair and beneficial to local students.

N J FRENCH Secretary General University Grants Committee Quinton Chan replies: I got the figures regarding non-local students from the Education and Manpower Bureau. It had obtained the figures from the UGC.

I asked Jack Chan, the UGC's Deputy Secretary General, for an interview, but was told it was a matter for the Education and Manpower Bureau.