Costly exams put equality to the test

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 18 February, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 18 February, 2012, 12:00am


Hong Kong likes to think of itself as a place with equal opportunities for all, regardless of age, race, religion, disability and sexual orientation. Over the years, the city has come a long way towards that goal, thanks to growing public awareness, as well as a widening range of institutional supports and safeguards. But there is no room for complacency. A report in this newspaper about how high examination fees have become a hurdle for ethnic minority students to enter university is a case that warrants attention.

Pakistani-Filipino Mashal Khalid wants to get into the Faculty of Medicine at the University of Hong Kong. The 16-year-old got A* in Chinese in the lower-level GCSE. But the grade means her Chinese language proficiency is only equivalent to that of a local in early primary school. To stay competitive in the university admission process, she may have to spend HK$4,080 to sit for the GCE, a higher-level overseas exam. The fee, which is eight times more than locals pay to sit for the exam for the Hong Kong Diploma of Secondary Education, is often too expensive for many ethnic minority families struggling to make ends meet. Our society can ill-afford to waste human capital because of skin colour. Being educationally underprivileged may lead to life-long inequality in career opportunities and advancement. It would be a pity if high fees deter ethnic minority students from sitting for more advanced exams, putting them at a disadvantage. Students should be differentiated by their ability, not by their financial background. No capable students should be deprived of a chance to study due to a lack of money.

It is encouraging to hear that the Community Care Fund, a HK$10 billion government/business venture to help people in need, has agreed in principle to fully subsidise students taking the GCE. A longer-term strategy is to better integrate ethnic minority students into the local education system at an early stage.