Universities must bid for about 10pc of students

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 15 September, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 15 September, 2010, 12:00am

A new university funding scheme is being introduced under which about 10 per cent of student places in all but a few academic disciplines will be put up for competitive bidding among all tertiary institutions.

Under the scheme, an extension of a trial that has operated since last year, 7.5 per cent of all student places now allocated to specific universities will go into a central bidding pool. Programmes like medicine and nursing that are seen as meeting essential needs will be exempted, meaning the remainder of disciplines will have to offer up about 10 per cent of student places, academics say.

They say this will put pressure on purely academic subjects like the humanities, which already find it harder to attract students than do subjects like business.

University Grants Committee chairwoman Laura Cha Shih May-lung announced yesterday that the new scheme would start in 2012, when the trial ends. She said it was aimed at introducing competition to university education, and 2012 - the first year of the new four-year degree structure - was the perfect time to start.

Hong Kong Institute of Education registrar Dr So Kwok-sang, said the committee wanted universities to 'do some introspection' and review which programmes were worth continuing. 'But you don't have to do that through such a scheme,' he said. 'The committee should have trust in our self-regulating mechanisms.'

Chinese University biology professor Wong Chong-kim said staff morale would be affected. 'If you fail to bid for places, you will be short of funding for three years. Staff are worried about their rice bowls as the survival of their departments is at stake.'

A Baptist University spokesman said the practice would affect academically valuable subjects that may not be the most 'marketable'.

In the trial, 4 per cent, or 580 places, of a total 14,500 first-year places went into a central bidding pool.

In the next round, to run until 2015, the total number will increase almost 90 per cent to 1,088 places. This would involve about HK$270 million in annual public funding.

Cha said the extra financial resources to be received by universities at the start of the four-year degree system would ease the pain of the new funding scheme.

The three-year senior secondary system was launched last year. The first batch of graduates under the new system will enter university for four-year degrees in 2012, in the same year as the last graduates under the old four-year senior secondary system arrive for their three-year degrees. Extra resources are being made available to help universities cater for the two groups.

Chinese University, which has nine programmes, including medicine and pharmacy, exempted, has to contribute 228 places, or 21 per cent of the central pool of 1,088.

So said most institutions had been able to get back the places they contributed in the trial. 'But it won't be like that this time around as the bidding pool has been enlarged.'

The Baptist University spokesman said 7.5 per cent was a high level that would affect not only specific disciplines but also the overall operation of a university.

'This will make it hard for a university to develop long-term strategic plans, especially at the moment when all universities are working hard on developing the four-year undergraduate curriculum.'

Starting point

The proportion of places now allocated to specific universities that will be put into the central bidding pool is: 7.5%