Education voucher scheme in Hong Kong should cover more colleges
While the Education Bureau’s HK$30,000 education voucher for students enrolling in a four-year self-financed degree programme is a positive gesture by the government, the list of institutions eligible for the scheme is rather limited. Several self-financed institutions most preferred by students are excluded from the scheme.
In reality, many Diploma of Secondary Education school leavers who have made the grade requirements but failed to acquire a place in one of the University Grants Committee-funded universities would rather enter a community college for an associate degree or a higher diploma. By doing so, they give themselves a second chance to enter a degree programme in a UGC-funded university through the direct admission scheme that allows students to progress directly into the senior year of the programme. Close to 50 per cent of the associate degree students in the major community colleges in Hong Kong did that in the past few years and this group of students deserves some support from the government as well.
We reckon that some self-financed institutions face the risk of being eliminated because of insufficient enrolment. This may be attributable to the over-proliferation of such institutions, or a declining student population, as well as public perception of the quality of their programmes.
The education voucher scheme will certainly help some of these institutions. But the subsidy is failing to provide maximum benefit to the widest number of students if it is, in effect, being used to rescue a particular group of self-financed institutions. To make it really effective, the subsidy should be extended to all post-secondary programmes that are locally recognised or accredited.
The community college system was promoted by the Hong Kong government 18 years ago in order to increase the number of students receiving a post-secondary education, as well as to enhance the diversity and flexibility of our higher education system.
While the associate degree and higher diploma can be standalone awards, they are also recognised as being an alternative route to university degree studies.
The 4,800 UGC-funded senior year places earmarked for sub-degree students are one reason students choose a two-year sub-degree programme over the four-year degrees offered by a self-funded institution.
For the sake of all Hong Kong students, it is imperative that this alternative pathway should be kept open and that the senior-year direct admission system is retained.
Chan Lung-sang, deputy director and college principal, HKU SPACE