Hong Kong students choose public over private by opting for associate degrees when missing out on university places
Rather than using new government subsidy for private courses, students are attracted to non-degree qualifications at public universities by their better reputation
Associate degree courses at Hong Kong’s public universities are still the choice for many students who miss out on studying for a bachelor’s degree at these institutions, despite the weaker reputation of the qualification and higher fees.
The preference remains despite a new government subsidy aimed at helping those students into degrees at private institutions.
Students say the better reputation of publicly-funded universities over private schools and their higher quality make them preferable.
Secondary school leavers found out on Monday whether they had secured one of about 15,000 highly sought-after places on government-subsidised bachelor’s degree courses at one of the eight public universities in the city. And with 20,800 pupils hitting the basic entry requirements in the Diploma of Secondary Education exams, many eligible entrants were likely to miss out.
To ease the effects of that disparity, the government last month announced an annual subsidy of HK$30,000 for pupils who got those basic entry requirements but end up taking full-time undergraduate programmes at selected non-government-subsidised institutions.
But some eligible students still opted for associate degrees – two-year, sub-degree programmes with an academic focus – at public universities, despite no subsidy and no guarantee of being able to switch to an undergraduate degree afterwards.
Eric Lai got the exam results necessary for a public university place, but was not offered one. He got an offer for a self-financed course at Hang Sang Management College, which comes under a different government subsidy scheme for designated professions.
But Lai opted to apply for an associate degree in business administration at HKU SPACE Community College, affiliated with the University of Hong Kong.
“I think it would be better to do an associate degree and try to get back into public universities in the third year,” he said.
The degree programme under the subsidy scheme costs HK$36,700 for the coming academic year, while the unsubsidised associate degree will set Lai back HK$55,000 for the next school year.
But he said it was worth the risk.
“A degree from a government-funded university is more recognised when it comes to finding jobs, and better for my future,” he said.
Professor Chan Lung-sang, the community college’s principal, said about 60 per cent of its associate degree graduates got a place in the third year of public university courses.
Lai, who planned to work part time to help with tuition fees, said he hoped the government would consider subsidising associate degree programmes.
Another four students who met the basic university entry requirements said they would go for associate degrees instead of newly subsidised private degree courses, citing similar reasons to Lai’s.
Yuko Kan was offered a place on an accounting programme at the Open University, which was covered by the HK$30,000 subsidy scheme announced last month. But she opted to pay herself through a Bachelor of Arts course in liberal studies education at Education University.
Secretary for Education Kevin Yeung Yun-hung said previously that courses at public universities were not included in the new subsidy scheme because of the schools’ focus on research and courses subsidised in the traditional way.
But Kan said she preferred to go to Education University because of its reputation. The course will cost her HK$80,400 a year, or about twice what she would pay taking a public university degree.
But some students seized the new government funding.
Tsang Shing-wui decided on a Hang Seng Management College bachelor of business administration programme, and was offered a place on Monday.
He said the subsidy meant the course would only cost HK$33,700 a year – less than that in public universities – adding he was not worried about the degree being less recognised.
“At least it guarantees a degree, which is better than an associate degree or higher diploma,” he said.
Additional reporting by Tracy Zhang