My Take

City University's pet project for vets school makes little sense

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 15 January, 2014, 3:57am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 15 January, 2014, 3:57am

Bad ideas don't die at City University. They just get recycled every few years until they become reality.

So Hong Kong looks set to have its own vets' school, which is being billed to become a hub for veterinary medicine excellence in Asia.

City University insists on going ahead with the school, persistently rejected as unviable and unnecessary over many years by the government's University Grants Committee. It will be self-financing and start at postgraduate level before expanding to include undergraduate courses in a few years. Committee funding chiefs have said, rightly, that unless there is a future policy change, no further application from the university will be entertained.

Without a cent of public financial support, a student may end up spending a million dollars or two on a full-degree course.

Why persist with the plan? The university says the new school will initially focus on researching infectious diseases and food safety instead of training vets. That would only make sense if Hong Kong had a big agricultural and livestock industry. Such an industry exists - across the border! Perhaps that's the unspoken reason: most of the expected - paying - students will be mainlanders.

So we will have a vets' school that is not, at least initially, for training local vets. That's just as well. Unlike doctors for people, we have more vets in Hong Kong than needed already. There are 690 registered vets in Hong Kong but only 70 per cent actually practise. We have 1,200 pets per vet in Hong Kong, compared with 2,500 in Singapore. How many vets can the Jockey Club hire for its horses?

The problem with City University is that it is always striving and failing to find a dominant niche. It cannot compete with the established industry-training programmes at the Polytechnic University or the heavy humanities tradition at Baptist University. It does not compare as a full research and teaching university like the University of Hong Kong and Chinese University, nor as a research-driven institution like the University of Science and Technology.

Maybe the university will prove everyone wrong and come up with a winning vets' school. At least it's not costing taxpayers.