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Universities in Hong Kong

University of Hong Kong mulls move to performance-based pay for staff, prompting outrage from union chief

Union lashes at plan, saying it would encourage a culture that rewards ‘shoe shining’ to please bosses and could affect the quality of research

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 29 March, 2018, 9:40pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 29 March, 2018, 11:27pm

Hong Kong’s oldest university is proposing to change its salary system, which currently tracks the “iron rice bowl” pay scales of the civil service, and adopt a new one based entirely on individual performance.

The idea is highly controversial and is already facing opposition, with the head of an academic staff union at the University of Hong Kong (HKU) warning against encouraging a culture of sycophancy and “shoe shining”, and possibly even affecting the quality of research at the 107-year-old institution.

The university is considering a more “fit-for-purpose” pay system that would better “highlight the importance of continuous professional development” and “recognise outstanding performance more effectively”, according to a staff circular seen by the Post on Thursday.

Currently, most staff salary adjustments are calculated on point-based individual performance reviews as well as increases in the cost of living, which closely mirrors civil service pay scales. The new proposal will effectively make their entire pay package performance-based.

The university is one of eight funded by the University Grants Committee, the main public financing body for academic research in Hong Kong. Any increase higher than the civil service rate is borne by the university.

It would promote a culture that encourages staff to shoe-shine to please bosses and stay quiet on issues
Dr William Cheung Sing-wai

Rather than applying a flat rate to all staffers of a certain rank, the general pay adjustment could be allocated according to individual performance, subject to an annual review. The increase would be benchmarked to an approved average increase by the university, according to the proposal.

This means staff exceeding expectations would get more than the average rate while those not meeting expectations might get nothing at all. Adjustments for those who have been working less than a year would be pro-rated.

The university currently has 7,786 academic and 3,901 non-academic staff on its payroll.

HKU said there would be “no systematic change” in available resources and about 80 per cent of staff would receive pay increases around the approved average.

Deserving staff should also be able to receive one-off merit rewards.

It is not clear how this will affect part-time or contract staff.

A spokeswoman for the university said consultation sessions would be held to collect views from staff before more details were worked out.

Dr William Cheung Sing-wai, chairman of HKU’s Academic Staff Association, said the university had contacted staff last week but he opposed making the cost of living component performance-based. He said he would write to the human resources department to oppose it.

“The review process would be hugely problematic as there could be many different interpretations of a reviewers’ comments,” said Cheung, whose association represents most of the university’s 1,250 lecturers.

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“There would be so many human factors at play that could make it unfair. It would promote a culture that encourages staff to shoe-shine to please bosses and stay quiet on issues. There would be less of a need to do good research.”

Cheung was also concerned about the impact on pensions of staff nearing retirement as these were based on their final salaries. He said he was baffled as to why the management had not discussed the proposal with them beforehand.

Eric Cheung Tat-ming, who represents full-time non-teaching staff on the university’s governing council, said he would have to hear more from the management during the consultation.

The first workshop is set to begin on Friday, April 6.

Other universities, such as City University and Education University, have some form of performance-based pay scales.

International universities have also been making moves to have more performance-based pay systems.