Alarm over plan to control APA funding

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 02 December, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 02 December, 2010, 12:00am

A plan to bring the Hong Kong Academy of Performing Arts under the control of the University Grants Committee has sparked shock and alarm among its senior academics.

The plan is among key recommendations in a major review of higher education that the UGC announced yesterday. The review provides a road map for the future of universities that the government is expected to broadly follow. It came as a surprise to academy leaders, who were neither consulted nor given advance notice of its release.

The UGC's report, Aspirations for the Higher Education System in Hong Kong, states that it would be 'logical' to entrust oversight of the academy's funding to the UGC to 'ensure consistency in the allocation of public resources' in higher education.

This would facilitate co-operation between the academy and the eight publicly funded institutions in areas such as teaching and extra-curricular learning.

The report noted the academy's 'unique nature' and pledged the UGC's 'funding and oversight regime' could accommodate that.

UGC chairwoman Laura Cha Shih May-lung said it was not appropriate for the HKAPA, a recipient of public funding, to remain separate from the eight publicly funded institutions. 'We hope to put the HKAPA under the UGC umbrella. Due to historical reasons, it is now under the Home Affairs Bureau. We want to rationalise the publicly funded tertiary sector.

'We have not asked HKAPA about the issue. We expect to draw objections from them. But if the government endorses the idea, students from the other eight institutions can benefit by being able to go to HKAPA for exchanges.'

The academy issued a brief statement from director Professor Kevin Thompson yesterday in response to the report, but he was not available for further comment. 'The academy is a highly distinctive tertiary institution in its practice-based teaching - and unique in Hong Kong,' he said. 'We are pleased that the unique nature of the academy is recognised in the proposals.'

Gerard Postiglione, head of policy, administration and social sciences at the University of Hong Kong, said: 'Clearly they are going to have to compete for funding within the UGC framework, which is probably going to be a lot more intensely competitive, but it could lead to further development and prestige for the academy if they are successful.'

But five senior academy staff said they were completely unaware of the plan.

The academy, set up in 1984 to provide professional training in the performing arts, gained degree awarding status in 1992.

Shu Kei, dean of the film and television school, said the announcement was a surprise. 'It does sound very upsetting because the academy is basically a specialised school,' he said. 'It is like a conservatoire or arts academy - most of the curriculum is geared towards the practical side.'

If the academy was grouped under the same funding conditions as universities, it would mean that class sizes would have to increase. 'Quite a lot of music classes are one-to-one and with film and TV it can be as low as one-to-four,' said Shu. 'This sort of education cannot be conducted in larger classes. We would just end up with some kind of token training, which would not provide the specialist skills required by the industry.'

Dean of the drama school Tang Shu-wing said: 'I didn't know anything about this. I am a bit surprised that they have not consulted senior staff within the academy.'

A UGC spokesman said: 'We do not see why the HKAPA's operation should necessarily be affected by a change in its funding body.'