University places no longer assured
Attending an elite secondary school will no longer be a guarantee of a university place, teachers warn.
As more pupils sit the new Diploma of Secondary Education, schools that have in the past enjoyed a university admission rate of close to 100 per cent say they expect to have to answer to parents disappointed when their children miss out.
Such is the concern over university places that a growing number of pupils are looking at courses abroad.
Traditionally, only about a third of pupils continued their studies and took A-levels after the Hong Kong Certificate of Education Examination papers at the end of Form Five. Under the '3+3+4' system introduced in 2009, pupils will complete three years of junior secondary education and three years of senior secondary education. Those qualified to go on to university will take four years to complete standard courses.
The problem will be most acute this year, when the final batch of A-level candidates will sit exams at the same time as the first diploma graduates. In all, 110,000 pupils are expected to sit exams leading to university, of whom 70,000 will sit for the diploma. Just 30,000 university places are available - half for three-year courses aimed at A-level graduates and half for four-year courses for those who sit the diploma.
Martin Ho, vice-principal of Wah Yan College in Wan Chai, said under the old system the school secured university admission rates of close to 100 per cent. 'It's natural for [the university admission rate] to become 50 per cent now,' Ho said.
Wu Siu-wai, vice-chairman of the Federation of Education Workers, said the fall in the proportion of pupils gaining university places would be troubling for school boards and parents. 'When it is presented to parents and a school board, they will just see it as a lower figure,' he said. Administrators and parents may not understand the problems caused.
Nancy Chan Woo Mei-hou, principal of King's College in Sai Wan, an elite government school, said it was difficult to predict how pupils would perform in the new exam or assess the strength of competition from other schools.
Those who failed to get into university would have many other options for higher or further education in the city, including self-funded degree programmes, studying for higher diplomas or associate degrees, and vocational training courses, she said.
Wu warns, though, that, far from being swamped by qualified applicants, institutions offering associate degree and diploma courses will have to choose between leaving places empty or lowering entry requirements because most pupils will fail one or more of the diploma subjects.
He cited a study by the federation which showed that pupils found subjects such as accounting, English and the new, compulsory liberal studies paper among the most difficult in mock exams. 'What is also surprising is that people are telling us that even the Chinese language papers are hard,' he said.
The rise in applications for UK institutions, including Oxford and Cambridge, from Hong Kong pupils
Source: British Council