College made first private university

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 20 December, 2006, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 20 December, 2006, 12:00am

Founder ecstatic after 35-year fight for recognition finally pays off with upgrade

A 35-year struggle by Shue Yan College for university status ended yesterday when it became Hong Kong's first private university.

Secretary for Education and Manpower Arthur Li Kwok-cheung made the announcement after an Executive Council meeting - and pronounced himself pleased the institution, based in Braemar Hill, would now be called Hong Kong Shue Yan University.

Professor Li said the new title was recognition of Shue Yan's success, and praised the staff and students for their excellent performance in the past 35 years.

College founder Henry Hu Hung-lick said: 'I feel very happy for my students, who finally get the recognition and title they deserve. We have been waiting for this for 35 years, and it should have come earlier. But it is better late than never.'

The upgrade came after an assessment by the Council for Academic Accreditation in May found the liberal arts college meets standards expected of a university in terms of internal governance and quality assurance. Since 2001, the council has validated 10 degree programmes run by Shue Yan, which has 3,200 students.

Professor Li said Shue Yan would be inspected every five years. 'This doesn't mean that we do not have confidence in Shue Yan. This is a common practice to ensure quality education at private universities in other countries.'

He said the government was considering offering the new university a one-off grant, but this drew a cautious response from Dr Hu. He thanked the government for its 'kind thought', but said Shue Yan had a solid foundation and preferred to rely on its own efforts.

'As long as we can carry out our own development plans according to our wishes, we welcome government funds,' Dr Hu said. 'Sometimes using government money might cause delays to our plans. We also welcome donations, but most donations come with conditions.'

Shue Yan's vice-president, Hu Fai-chung, said it enjoyed more flexibility and freedom by not relying on government funds.

'Most of our funds are from tuition fees and most donations are unconditional. Dr Hu also contributes a lot. He pays lots of construction costs with his own money and Shue Yan pays him back when its finances improve,' Mr Hu said.

Henry Hu said the university was considering increasing tuition fees by 5 per cent, but he was not sure when. Existing students would not be affected. The fee for an undergraduate degree programme is HK$45,000 a year. Shue Yan also runs postgraduate programmes in conjunction with mainland universities.

Shue Yan is still awaiting a government decision on a land use application to build a research centre, whose purpose would be to strengthen cultural exchanges with the mainland and promote Chinese culture worldwide.

Shue Yan's upgrade was welcomed by the Hong Kong Institute of Education, which is waiting for a decision on its own university bid. There are rumours Professor Li wants it to merge with Chinese University and allegations the government is meddling in the reappointment of its president, Paul Morris.

A spokesman for the teacher training institute said the Executive Council had given full support for the upgrade in its status. 'The council says it is the community's overwhelming desire to upgrade the teaching profession, especially in the midst of education reforms. A university title for the HKIEd would help towards achieving this goal and demonstrate the government's commitment to upgrading the teaching profession,' the spokesman said. Professor Li said the institute was still assessing the performance of its president, and the government had not interfered.

Kong Yau-tak, vice-president of the city's only other private tertiary institution, Chu Hai College in Tsuen Wan, said it would apply for university status when it saw its first batch of degree programme students graduate next year.