Support to extend funds to private universities
Lawmakers yesterday opened the door to allowing private universities to join a HK$1 billion funding scheme previously applicable to only publicly funded tertiary institutions.
Members of the Legislative Council education panel gave near-unanimous support to a government proposal to launch a fourth round of the Matching Grants Scheme in January, and for it to be extended to the Open University of Hong Kong and the Shue Yan University.
The scheme, launched in 2002, is intended to encourage universities to seek private donations with the offer of matching them from public funds up to HK$250 million per institution and an overall total of HK$1 billion for each round.
While no legislators opposed the scheme in principle, one said it should be extended to include self- financed sub-degree programmes, while another criticised the practice of naming rights for major donors.
'There are rich people who some ordinary people would not want anything to do with, but you are forcing students to attend a college which has their name,' said Albert Chan Wai-yip, of the League of Social Democrats. 'It seems that money can buy you all the naming rights you want.'
Mr Chan said he would not support the proposal unless universities were barred from issuing naming rights when donations were matched by public funds. 'We are paying half the money but they get all the honour. If they want naming rights, they must pay the whole amount.'
However, Michael Stone, secretary general of the University Grants Committee, said he had no qualms about the practice. 'I think it is fair. Naming rights are nothing new.'
Democrat Cheung Man-kwong, legislator for the education sector, pushed for the government to let universities apply matching funding to self-financed sub-degrees, 'by the same logic' as allowing self-financing institutions to join.
'It requires very little from you and it can help solve one of your problems,' he said.
Education Secretary Michael Suen Ming-yeung said there was insufficient time to implement this in the coming round. However, following repeated questioning, Mr Suen agreed to 'consider' the proposal.
The HK$1 billion scheme could be launched in January if it is approved by the finance committee.
The seven UGC-funded universities and the Hong Kong Institute of Education, plus OpenU and Shue Yan will be able to apply for dollar-for-dollar matching for the first HK$45 million in donations received by the end of 2008.
The remainder of the fund will be shared on a first-come-first-served basis at HK$1 for every two donated up to a maximum of HK$250 million per institution.