Student nurses' failure to win accreditation prompts ministerial warning to colleges
Ella Lee and Liz Gooch
The failure of some nursing students to get accreditation was a warning that colleges should not launch courses before getting professional accreditation, the health minister said yesterday.
Secretary for Food and Health York Chow Yat-ngok made the comment while sympathising with 140 students at the Institute of Technology who cannot get recognition because the course has failed to be accredited by the Nursing Council, despite being accredited by the Council for Academic Accreditation.
The Nursing Council said yesterday its rejection of the three-year associate degree was necessary to safeguard public safety and standards.
Concerns had been raised about the quality and cost of the associate degree programmes, introduced in 2000.
The associate degree holders have been struggling for recognition of their qualifications from employers and higher education institutions.
The government is conducting a review of the programmes.
Distressed students who have taken the three-year course sought help from lawmakers on Wednesday and about 50 protested outside Legco yesterday.
The institute said it was shocked by the council's decision.
Its three-year programme costs HK$130,000. It has 21 third-year students who will graduate in June, 19 students in second year and 99 students in first year.
Speaking at Legco yesterday, Dr Chow said academic institutes should first obtain professional accreditation before launching their courses. 'We will try our best to help the students, we have great sympathy for them,' he said.
Nursing Council chairwoman Adela Lai Shuet-fun said it had to ensure that nursing quality was up to standard. 'If the institution cannot meet the requirements then we have to reject it,' she said.
No associate degree nursing programmes had been recognised by the council to date.
Meanwhile, reports have indicated that the Hong Kong University's School of Professional and Continuing Education (Space) nursing course will also not be recognised.
Ms Lai said the council was not yet ready to make a decision.
HKIT president Joy Shi Mei-shun said she had believed the institute would receive accreditation after the council visited in February. 'It never crossed our minds that the programme would be rejected,' she said.
She said the council had been difficult to communicate with and had constantly asked the institute to provide more documents.
'It became almost a nightmare in the last three years,' Dr Shi said, adding that the institute had submitted five boxes of documents to the council and its handbook clearly stated accreditation would not be conducted until the course was fully operational.
In a statement released last night, the Nursing Council said 'applying institutes admit students prior to being accredited at their own choice and risk' and had a duty to keep students informed about the status of their courses. The council said it had kept the institute informed about the 'shortcomings' and clearly stated areas requiring improvement.
'HKIT nevertheless still fails to comply with the standard comparable to and expected by the council for accreditation,' it said.
Nursing Council member and health-care sector legislator Joseph Lee Kok-long said it was surprising that the students had not known the institute had failed to gain accreditation.
He was discussing the issue with the Hospital Authority to see if it could help train the students so that they could qualify.