THE Government's opposition to any proposal involving extra burdens on the education budget should not deter the heads of the tertiary institutions from reopening the issue of a four-year university system. But their deliberations must be sensitive to the needs of the community, not merely to the interests of academia. Schools, for instance, will find it hard to accept the idea of reducing secondary education to allow time and resources for a foundation year at university.
As the Government points out, secondary students may resent the prospect of another round of changes creating uncertainty in their studies. Nor will there be much support for the universities' plan to cut places from 18 per cent of the 17-to-20 year age group to 15 per cent. Hong Kong needs more, not less, tertiary education.
However, the principle of a foundation year, with an emphasis on language studies and a broader general education, should be pursued. The universities complain of a deterioration in the quality of their students and a decline in standards of English and Chinese as the number of students has risen. Tough though it may be to impose an extra year's education on the student body or the public purse, the alternative may be to churn out a generation of increasingly over-specialised, under-educated second-raters.