The education minister needs to move away from 'input accounting' to 'output/outcome accounting'.
A member of a public policy think-tank since 1989 and a part-time lecturer in post-graduate management, I do not doubt Professor Arthur Li Kwok-cheung could improve the output and quality in education and achieve a mild reduction in budget at the same time.
What the public needs to understand is that subventions to universities are simply allocations. It is different from 'cost' - a calculated unit of measurement often used to evaluate how effectively and efficiently the universities are delivering the services ('outputs').
In turn, specific public service 'outputs', for example training a secondary school teacher, are used by governments to achieve specific 'outcomes'. In Professor Li's case, the 'outcome' he would like to achieve is more higher education of a higher quality.
Moderate cost-cutting is healthy. It trims fat and focuses the minds of university administrators on delivering what they are supposed to deliver. More extreme cost-cutting is possible though not desirable from a social point of view, unless the costs saved are reallocated back to education to achieve additional 'output' and 'outcomes' that will bring other benefits to society.
There is no lack of successful precedents on how this can be done. The best and most well-documented cases on how to achieve more and better output from higher education institutes come from Australia.
What is needed in Hong Kong are more liberal channels through which public policy ideas can be channelled to the ministers. We also need more ministers who understand that Hong Kong needs to change before it can step from the top echelon of the Third World into the ranks of the First World.
ALAN LUNG KA-LUN, chairman, Hong Kong Democratic Foundation