Funding the future
In a period of austerity, no sector of the community can expect to be exempt from cutbacks, but a plan to trim $5 billion off university funding over the next four years is hardly the best way to start Hong Kong on its journey to become a regional information technology centre.
The alternative, to impose a four-year budget freeze and to allow departments to plough back a portion of their savings into teaching or research is an ideal solution. Except in a recession, a Government with an avowed commitment to improved educational opportunity and lifetime learning should be pouring more investment into the universities. The aim must be to eventually rely on our own pool of talent to drive the economy forward, rather than having to recruit the top brains from outside.
Proposals by the University Grants Committee to link the cost of university courses to the earning potential of students have been criticised by educationalists, but there is no reason to regard it as an offensive idea.
Most Western countries operate a loan system for university courses, allowing students to delay repayment until they have reached a specified level of earnings. That would fit in with proposals to charge fees according to the subject, because it should satisfy critics who say grading course fees would make students choose courses for the wrong reasons.
With time to repay, no undergraduate should feel pressured into studying a subject purely for its earning potential. In a perfect world, learning should be valued for its own sake, and so long as the grant subsidy remains, academia will not become commercialised.
But money and status have always featured in most undergraduates' career paths. Or why was there a surfeit of lawyers in the days of the property boom?