Exam authority chief defends HK$60m funding boost

Extra cash was needed to keep fees down and staff had to be rewarded for extra workload involved in revamped system, says chairman

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 02 October, 2013, 7:41pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 03 October, 2013, 12:22pm

The exam authority yesterday defended asking the government for HK$60 million in 2010 to cover the cost of exams for repeaters, only to record surpluses in the next three years.

The self-financed Examinations and Assessment Authority also granted some 400 of its staff - about 90 per cent - a total of HK$7 million in bonuses last year.

The authority said the subsidy was to cover the estimated losses involved in holding the last School Certificate exams in 2011 and the Advanced Level exams this year for a few repeaters.

It said the number of repeaters meant that their application fees did not cover the cost of arranging the exams.

The total losses from the two exams would be determined when this year's accounting procedures had been completed, the authority said.

It also said that when it requested the subsidy it had not foreseen that there would be surpluses in the following years.

"If we hadn't asked for the subsidy … candidates would have had to pay super high exam fees," authority chairman Rock Chen Chung-nin said at a press conference he spent deflecting reports about the group's finances.

Chen said that last year staff had faced extreme pressure and an extra workload preparing for double the number of candidates as a result of the transition to the six-year secondary school system and four years of tertiary education.

He said there had been a staff turnover of up to 20 per cent over that time so the authority had had to give bonuses to keep talent and maintain staff morale.

"Our staff are not civil servants," Chen said. "They have no education subsidies or housing allowances. We need to follow market practices and give them performance-based incentives."

As of August last year, the authority had a reserve of HK$170 million.

But Chen said the reserve was important to ensure the authority had enough money for the many renovations and other capital projects that needed to be implemented.

He said the authority also had used the reserve to avoid increasing the fees for the Diploma of Secondary Education exams next year. But he did not promise the fees would not rise in the future.

It now costs an average of HK$2,600 to sit for six DSE subjects.

Civic Party lawmaker Kenneth Chan Ka-lok said that while it might be necessary for the authority to seek government subsidies for public exams, the government should not give it the flexibility to operate as a private sector body that could turn around and offer staff more money to keep them happy.