Universities are signing guardianship papers and preparing to crack down on under-age drinking ahead of the arrival of a record intake of under-18-year-olds this autumn.
Under the new 3-3-4 education system, Hongkongers now have only six years of secondary education and an extra, fourth year at university. This means an estimated 5,000 of the 30,000 new undergraduates this September will still legally be minors.
Campus managers say they have revised guidelines on issues ranging from discipline to privacy to deal with the arrival of younger students, and sought legal advice on their potential liabilities.
City University has issued forms for parents to sign, asking them to share guardianship of their children with the university.
'We need to seek consent from parents on things such as risky experiments, field trips, or other academic decisions that can affect them,' said vice-president of student affairs Paul Lam Kwan-sing.
He said the university had granted supervisors at residences restricted access to students' personal information, such as dates of birth, to facilitate disciplinary action against under-age drinking and smoking.
Provost Arthur Ellis said that 'some sort of monitoring' was essential, citing incidents in colleges elsewhere, such as the United States, where students died of excessive alcohol consumption.
In the past, universities have only occasionally enrolled minors, usually ones who were smart enough to sit exams ahead of their peers.
According to the University of Hong Kong's dean of student affairs, Albert Chau Wai-lap, management has drafted advice for student groups, faculties and hostel organisations, calling on them to pay special attention to these students.
Evening activities during orientation camps could not last till too late if they involved younger students, he said. 'Also, in dealing with cases when parents want to get exam results from the school, we still need consent from the students because of privacy considerations.'
Chinese University registrar Eric Ng Shu-pui said that school banquet organisers and librarians had been advised to keep an eye on students under 18 to prevent under-age drinking and access to adult materials.
But he said there were practical problems with asking parents to sign forms, due to the university's limited ability to verify the information.
'There is no way to know who their parents are, overall,' Ng said. But he said legal action would be unlikely if students and parents were well informed about their rights and responsibilities.