Bill to rein in foreign courses

Benson Chao

LEGISLATION is under way to screen out unaccredited overseas tertiary institutions offering courses in Hong Kong.

An assistant secretary of the Education and Manpower Branch, Raistlin Lau Chun, said the Non-local Higher Education (Regulation) Bill - first raised in the Executive Council in 1993 - would be ready for the November session of the Legislative Council.

'Even though Legco resumes meeting in November, it is beyond the branch's control when the actual bill will come up for discussion,' Mr Lau said.

The bill proposes that courses offered by overseas institutes in Hong Kong should first be properly accredited in their home countries.

And if overseas institutes collaborate with a local university or other post-secondary institute, it will be up to the local body to recognise the academic standing of the course. The bill says no public funds should be allocated for these collaborative ventures.

In April, Campus Post reported that the local market for education programmes, including postgraduate, professional and continuing programmes, had become a lucrative 'export' for both overseas and local institutions. However, many of the programmes failed to maintain academic standards and were not even properly accredited in their home countries.


The only regulation governing overseas courses is the Education Ordinance, which requires institutions to register as schools.

Professor Lee Ngok, the outgoing director of the University of Hong Kong's School of Professional and Continuing Education, considered the bill 'better than nothing'.

'At least this is the first step towards better monitoring. The Hong Kong Council of Academic Accreditation [HKCAA, the only official academic accreditation body in the territory] has no authority to approve or disapprove overseas universities delivering programmes in Hong Kong and, in this respect, it would be best for an independent body to be established to do the job.

'However, it seems that the Government has no intention of doing this,' Professor Lee said.


He said if the bill was approved, the Director of Education would act as the registrar to vet overseas institutions.

Both the University Grants Committee and the HKCAA provide overall guidelines for local universities, while the Federation of Continuing Education - formed by six higher learning institutes - regulate their own part-time programmes.


Professor Lee said other Asian countries, such as Singapore and Malaysia, monitored local and overseas institutions more closely.

The Ministry of Education in Singapore examined the quality of the continuing education programmes conducted by overseas institutions directly or in collaboration with the republic's private institutions.

'But it would be too restrictive to follow suit. If we were to do this, we would not be able to meet the demand of the Hong Kong people.


'At present, we have to let the market decide which programmes will survive and which will not.'