Two reviews better than one, say dons

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 26 May, 2001, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 26 May, 2001, 12:00am

A second review of higher education in Hong Kong has been commissioned by the University Grants Committeee (UGC), which academics say is urgently needed, even though a review by the Education Commission is already underway.

The UGC has commissioned a group headed by Lord Sutherland, a senior UGC member who is also a member of the Higher Education Funding Council for England, to carry out the review. Also in the group are UGC chairman Alice Lam Lee Kiu-yu, secretary-general Peter Cheung Po-tak, five other UGC members and one company chairman.

It is tasked with examining the role and future of higher education in the territory, its funding mechanism, the interface between secondary and tertiary sectors and a system to ensure universities are well governed.

Lord Sutherland, also vice-chancellor of Edinburgh University, will be making frequent visits to the territory to meet his group before the report is completed in the first half of next year. The UGC committee will collect the views of university staff as well as the general public.

The rise in distance education providers and the Government's target of raising to 60 per cent the proportion of school-leavers with access to tertiary education has made this review necessary, said Lord Sutherland.

Meanwhile, a working group under the Education Commission (EC) is collecting views on the admission system, duration of university studies and possibility of a credit-transfer system. It is also due to complete its report next year.

These issues, including that of quality assurance, will be on the agenda of both groups. In its report last year, the EC suggested that universities' self-accrediting mechanisms be strengthened and that the UGC undertake external assessments on the effectiveness of teaching and learning.

Director of the centre of public policy studies at Lingnan University, Professor Ho Lok-sang, agrees quality assurance is an important area that needs to be examined. 'Teachers are having too much to do at the expense of their teaching. There are far too many meetings and each department has to do much preparation for inspections by UGC panel members for its Teaching and Learning Quality Process Review.'

A review was also needed because of the uncertain future of higher education as a result of the Government's funding cut, he said. 'Universities would like to have a better idea of how they should operate in future.'

A review of local higher education was long overdue, said Professor Chan King-ming, editor of Tai Hok Tao, a publication for university teachers brought out by the Hong Kong Professional Teachers' Union. 'There are various issues affecting us: one is the heavy workload from teaching and doing research. There is also a problem in applications for research funding. We can only apply through our institutions and not individually, which means our universities can have control over the kind of research we do. This could cause interference with academic freedom.'