Carrie Lam’s voucher plan for self-funded students a welcome move

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 21 June, 2017, 4:15pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 21 June, 2017, 11:18pm

I refer to Regina Ip’s response to the chief executive-elect’s proposal to introduce a HK$30,000 voucher scheme for young students wishing to pursue degree programmes offered by self-financing institutions (“Quality checks for all self-funded colleges in Hong Kong long overdue”, June 7).

The proposal by Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor is a welcome one, as it can help alleviate the financial burden of students whose public examination results cannot earn them a University Grants Committee-funded degree place, which is capped at 15,000.

The government has insisted it will not increase the first-year first-degree places, since each funded student place represents a significant funding commitment in the long-term. The funding increase of around 1,000 extra places in specific disciplines in the past two years certainly cannot pacify the political groups in the higher education sector.

Who benefits from the HK$5 billion pledged by Carrie Lam for Hong Kong’s education sector?

The voucher scheme is a panacea, since the benefactors are the “end-users” of the education services provided by the self-financing institutions. It is a good move. It is, after all, not aimed towards improving the quality of the self-financing programmes, which should have met the standards required by the Hong Kong Council for Academic Accreditation and Vocational Qualifications.

Unlike UGC-funded degrees, these programmes have to compete in the “higher education market”, opened up by the government since 2003 when it withdrew funding from many sub-degree programmes, on the argument that most of these could operate on a self-financing basis if there was sufficient demand.

The “market” was further opened up when the government encouraged private universities to be set up a few years ago.

Since 2003, many students whose results were not good enough for admission to government-funded degree places continued their studies by paying higher fees for self-financed sub-degree (associate degree/higher diploma) programmes.

In recent years, with more self-financing institutions offering local degrees, students can also enrol directly by paying higher fees. In future, through the voucher scheme, in addition to taking out loans, students can get a subsidy to offset the fees for self-financing degree places.

However, associate degree graduates who had not attained the minimum university admissions requirements in the past were not eligible for subsidies even if they were subsequently admitted to the self-financing degrees. I believe this should be re-examined.

Tony Leung, Kwai Chung