New exam clears way to faster degree
Liz Heron and Elaine Yau
Students who take Hong Kong's new school-leaving exam will be able to gain a degree with one less year of study than currently required - if they go to university in Britain.
The new shorter study path was confirmed by Secretary for Education Michael Suen Ming-yeung yesterday, when he unveiled the recognition arrangements for the Hong Kong Diploma of Secondary Education at home and abroad.
Suen said the diploma - the centrepiece of the new '3+3+4' education system - had won acceptance for university matriculation in the United States, Britain and Australia. The secretary also spelled out the minimum grade requirements under the changed system for universities in Hong Kong.
Under the diploma, students leaving secondary school will be graded from Levels 1 to 5, with the highest possible score being Level 5**. The new exam, which will be introduced in 2012, replaces the current Hong Kong Certificate of Education Examination and A-levels.
'The exams authority has commissioned international qualifications agencies to conduct studies on the diploma exam,' Suen said. 'The results are very positive. They show that it compares favourably with other international exams including the International Baccalaureate.' He said he would travel to Canada in March to discuss the issue with the relevant authorities.
Students in Hong Kong currently apply to university after seven years of secondary education and take three-year degree programmes, as in Britain. But the education reforms bring the city closer into line with the United States, Australia and the mainland.
In September last year, schools switched over to six years of secondary education - three at junior level and three at senior level, while universities will launch four-year degrees in 2012.
The British national qualifications agency Naric, which is conducting a study of whether the new diploma equates to the country's A-levels for admission to British universities, has concluded it does - at least for the higher grades of the diploma, according to the British Council.
With British universities offering three-year undergraduate degrees, it opens the prospect that Hong Kong students could graduate a year earlier. Katherine Forestier, director of education and science services at the British Council, said: 'We understand most Hong Kong students who achieve the required levels comparable to UK A-levels will be able to proceed directly to UK higher education.'
Alice Yu Ming-wai, school service co-ordinator at the Hok Yau Club, which gives career advice, said: 'This information is likely to influence parents to opt to send their children to the UK, because it will be quicker for them to complete a degree.'
But parents should also consider the financial situation, their child's interests and a university's reputation, she said.
Henry Wai Wing-kun , registrar of the University of Hong Kong, said it was not worried about losing bright students to overseas universities.
'We have the international reputation and standing to attract students and parents, and we believe many students want to take four-year degrees.'