The former dean of two colleges that wildly exceeded their enrolment limits said yesterday that the schools had been under financial pressure to take in more students.
Dr Edward Fung Pui-wing, who stepped down last year as dean of Community College and the Institute of Further Education - both affiliated with Lingnan University - told the South China Morning Post: "Over the years, there has been financial pressure … honestly, my main responsibility was to keep the finances [of the schools] in a good condition."
A panel of inquiry set up by the university released a report on Thursday that found the total enrolment of the two schools exceeded 8,000, while the university last year set the threshold at 5,800. The panel criticised Fung for failing to adhere to the enrolment limit.
Fung said Community College had for many years taken in only a few hundred students, until the current academic year.
Among its financial problems, the college faced a challenging debt repayment schedule related to the construction of a building several years ago, he said.
While he said he respected the panel's findings, Fung argued that attempts to upgrade facilities and boost the schools' capacity ran into a "lack of co-ordination" with the university. Lingnan administrators had shown little flexibility in approving procurement requests, he said. Students had complained of a shortage of space, and in some cases, had no place to sit during classes.
A university spokeswoman rejected Fung's explanation, saying the panel's report stated he had failed to follow appropriate procedures for the upgrading projects.
The spokeswoman said established procedures and time requirements for projects must be in place to ensure consistency in decisions and quality.
Although the government requires self-financed institutions to operate separately from their university affiliates, many schools remain administratively or financially attached to the main campus.
In the case of Lingnan University, it received 20 per cent of tuition fees and related income paid to Community College and the Institute of Further Education every year as a "contribution fee", Fung said. He estimated that by enrolling 8,000 students this academic year, the university was set to receive at least HK$50 million from the two colleges, based on an average tuition fee of HK$35,000 per year.
Student advocate Chao Suet-ying said Fung was being irresponsible by blaming others.
"If you are facing financial pressure to enrol more students, but encounter problems and blame the university administration, then you are being irresponsible. He was the dean of the schools," she said.
Lawmaker Dr Kenneth Chan Ka-lok told a Legislative Council panel addressing oversight of self-financed programmes that enrolling an excessive number of students to reach a target without thorough planning was "unacceptable".
Speaking at the same meeting, Dr Fernando Cheung Chiu-hung said: "Education is not a business. We should all be ashamed as we are talking about people with doctorates and professors [running the schools]."