Continuing-ed colleges 'need more oversight'

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 21 April, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 21 April, 2012, 12:00am


The private arms of government-funded universities should face more supervision to prevent potential misuse of tuition income, legislators say.

Tightening the rules on these self-financing schools would avoid a repeat of criticism that marred schools under the direct-subsidy scheme - which spent tuition fees on lavish, high-risk investments in shares and property - they said.

Lawmakers on the education panel sounded a note of caution yesterday after continuing-education colleges run by universities were found to have made good revenue in recent years.

The city's eight public tertiary institutions received HK$5 billion in tuition fees for privately run programmes last year, recent data from the Education Bureau showed. Many of their schools have achieved a surplus margin of more than 10 per cent in the past few years.

'It seems they are doing even better than the electricity providers,' lawmaker Cheung Man-kwong said.

The government allows public universities to run privately funded programmes to boost access to tertiary education. The colleges offer diploma or 'sub-degree' intermediate programmes for secondary school graduates who are not eligible for degree studies. Such institutions were supposed to be non-profit, so checks should be in place to ensure students were not overcharged, and how surplus revenue was used should be monitored, legislators said.

Cheung suggested the authorities consider capping the surplus derived from self-financed courses; if the surplus level was exceeded, schools would have to use the extra income on students.

Legislator Starry Lee Wai-king accused the authorities of being in the dark about continuing-education schools.

'You are relying on data provided by different universities using their own accounting standards,' she said. 'It means we don't, in fact, know what's going on.'

Legislator Albert Ho Chun-yan noted that the surplus might not reflect the true picture, as private students shared facilities with mainstream students.

Undersecretary for Education Kenneth Chen Wei-on said in response that a committee on self-financing post-secondary education had been formed to discuss ways to improve supervision of such programmes. It would hold its first meeting next month.

Meanwhile, legislator Tam Yiu-chung said direct-subsidy schools were opposed to a proposal to tighten control over their finances - such as new requirements on a reserve fund, which was allocated to the schools for a tuition-remission scheme for poor students.

Under the recently proposed control scheme, funds allocated for fee-remission schemes cannot be withdrawn for purposes that do not directly benefit students.

Permanent Secretary for Education Cherry Tse Ling Kit-ching said the remission scheme was one of the requirements that could be traced back to the beginning of the direct-subsidy scheme. 'If some schools are unhappy about it, they should consider quitting the scheme,' she said.