Associate degree students face unfair financial burden, say teachers
A teachers' union yesterday accused the government of expanding the opportunities for university education without increasing its budget, leaving associate degree students with a hefty financial burden.
The Professional Teachers' Union said the government did not offer enough grants and loans to help many associate degree students cope with study costs.
The government has allocated $401.78 million in loans and $493.83 million in grants for the 2005-06 academic year, as of the end of August. In the 2004-05 academic year, $788.91 million in loans and $940.95 million in grants were awarded.
'The government is shifting the cost of running tertiary education to associate degree students,' said Cheung Man-kwong, the union's president.
'Students who are admitted to the eight universities with good grades in their A-level report cards enjoy grants and low-interest loans, but associate degree students have to apply for high-interest loans, as the government has a different set of criteria [for them] for giving grants and loans,' he said.
The approval rate of grant applications was 84 per cent for university students, but 28 per cent for associate degree students for the past academic year, the union said.
'They are also students of tertiary education. Why are tougher rules imposed on them when they apply for financial assistance? This is clearly discrimination,' Mr Cheung said.
Associate degree programmes are considered an alternative entry to university for Form Seven graduates whose A-level results fail to gain them admission.
In 2000, former chief executive Tung Chee-hwa's policy address said the government would provide new opportunities for 60 per cent of young people aged between 17 and 20 by 2010.
At present, 18 tertiary institutions provide 25,426 places for 66 per cent of young people in the 2005-06 year compared with only 9,397 places in the 2000-01 year.
'The government wants to lower the unemployment rate by making them stay in school, but it does not care if they can afford the education fees.' Union secretary Fung Wai-wah, who teaches associate degree programmes at City University, said the programme often failed to help students enter university because only 840 places were available.
Siu Chiu-kit, 24, who graduated from a social sciences associate degree programme last month, said he had to give up studies because of the lack of economic support.
He chose to work because his family was unable to support him while he studied a non-subsidised degree programme.
'Places are limited at subsidised universities. I do not want to borrow money any more, because I am already in debt. It is very expensive to study in a self-financed degree programme,' he said.
'I regret taking an associate degree programme, as it is too expensive and it is no use.
'Many employers ask me what an associate degree is, and they do not recognise my qualification.'
The recent interest rate rise had also increased his loan repayments.
'I borrowed about $60,000 in total. When I first borrowed money to cover tuition fees, the interest rate was about 4 per cent and now it has jumped to 6.27 per cent,' he said.