How will the extra HK$2 billion for recurrent spending on education help Hong Kong students?
Unclear details spark mixed reactions, but most welcome increase in funding which also includes one-off entrance fee grants for the DSE exams
In a bid to improve education and help students, the Hong Kong government announced it would inject an additional HK$2 billion (US$255.5 million) in recurrent expenditure on the sector and pay entrance fees for those sitting for the secondary school leaving examination next year.
While the extra funding was well-received by many, some educators expressed concerns over its effectiveness in tackling long-standing structural problems in the system.
In his 2018/19 budget address on Wednesday, Financial Secretary Paul Chan Mo-po estimated that the government would spend HK$113.7 billion on education, an increase of 28.4 per cent from HK$88.5 billion in the previous financial year.
Chan noted the newly introduced HK$2 billion on recurring expenditure for the sector was targeted at initiatives that included enhancing the professional development of teachers, strengthening support for kindergartens, reviewing and improving integrated education, and supporting schools in promoting all-rounded learning.
After taking office last July, Lam promptly explained how HK$3.6 billion of the HK$5 billion would be spent, such as on subsidising students pursuing full-time self-financing tertiary studies and improving teacher-to-pupil ratios in primary and secondary schools.
Lee Suet-ying, chairwoman of the Hong Kong Association of the Heads of Secondary Schools, said that while extra spending on the sector was always welcomed, she felt that the government did not address core problems such as insufficient teachers and an inflexible curriculum.
“The government needs to be braver, think out of the box and make bigger changes to the education system,” she said.
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Education lawmaker Ip Kin-yuen said he was concerned about whether authorities had a clear plan since no details were yet available on the additional HK$2 billion.
A more direct move benefiting students would be the government’s promise of paying the exam fees for candidates in the Diploma of Secondary Education (DSE) examination next year.
The one-off grant stems from the substantial fiscal surplus this year and is expected to cost the government about HK$180 million. Chan said that the grant would benefit students from a wide range of backgrounds, and although it was a modest move, it showed that the government cared for young Hongkongers.
A government source said the payment had no age limit and would cover private candidates and those in schools, including students taking just one or two subjects.
DSE exam fees rose in the past three years – subject fees for English and Chinese languages increased to HK$619 for the coming test from March to May, up by HK$24 from the previous year, while the fees for other subjects rose HK$16 to HK$414.
A student typically takes six subjects, including English and Chinese languages, mathematics, liberal studies and two electives.
The Examinations and Assessment Authority previously said the increase in recent years was due to a continual drop in candidate numbers, directly affecting its finances.
An authority spokeswoman said it welcomed the DSE grant, adding it would carefully consider factors including its financial condition, operation needs and costs, inflation, as well as affordability to parents and students, before submitting recommended fees for next year to the government.
According to the authority, 59,039 candidates registered for the exam this year, among whom 51,675 were school candidates. This was down from a total of 61,624 candidates last year and 68,128 in 2016.
Comson Or Yan-lung, a Secondary Five pupil who will benefit from the grant as he is sitting for the examination next year, said he was not really impressed.
“I think of it as just a small benefit from the government,” he said, adding that the fee was not much of a burden to him anyway.
“With the government spending so much on infrastructure and having a huge surplus, shouldn’t it be
giving back to the community more, such as through cash handouts or helping the less fortunate with public housing rents?” Or said.
Other measures for the education sector include providing a one-off means-tested grant of HK$2,000 each in the next school year to students who are in need. The move is expected to cost around HK$740 million and benefit 371,000 people. A government source said the grant would apply to those from kindergarten to post-secondary.
Paul Chan also announced he would set aside HK$1 billion to support the work of the Youth Development Commission, an advisory body that would be set up soon under the Chief Secretary Matthew Cheung Kin-chung.
A government source said how the amount would be spent depended on discussions within the commission.
Additional reporting by Tony Cheung