A BILL to regulate the activities of overseas institutions wishing to deliver their educational courses in Hong Kong has been introduced to the Legislative Council. The Non-local Higher and Professional Education (Regulation) Bill will establish a legislative framework within which the Registrar, who shall be the Director of Education, will operate a system of registration to regulate the quality, operation and marketing of non-local higher and professional courses conducted in Hong Kong. The legislation also aims to improve the dissemination of reliable information on the courses. Hong Kong Secretary for Education and Manpower, Joseph Wong Wing-ping, said the legislation would provide a system of quality assurance for Hong Kong consumers. He said the main focus of the Hong Kong Government's efforts in education in recent years had been to ensure the territory could sustain and improve the quality of education which was necessary to meet Hong Kong's continuing social and economic needs. He said that over the past 10 years, an increasing number of overseas institutions of higher education and professional bodies had been delivering courses in Hong Kong. They had done so either in collaboration with local institutions or through their local agents or representative offices. There are about 120 non-local institutions advertising and conducting about 74 collaborative courses and close to 300 independent institutions operating in Hong Kong. Mr Wong said the courses offered students opportunities to acquire overseas higher academic or professional qualifications without leaving the territory. 'However, we recognise the need to protect local consumers against potentially substandard courses.' Mr Wong said the object of the new bill was to protect local consumers of higher educational services against the marketing of substandard courses in Hong Kong. 'To achieve this objective, only courses operated by the non-local higher and professional education bodies which are recognised by the accreditation authorities and the academic communities in their home countries, are to be conducted in Hong Kong,' Mr Wong said. However, certain distance learning courses are delivered to local students solely through mail, telecommunications or sale of materials in commercial outlets without any operators being physically present in Hong Kong. Mr Wong said they had also considered the possibility of extending the scope of the new legislation to include distance learning courses that were conducted through the sale of materials in book shops, delivery of mail, or transmission of information by means of telecommunication. Lee Yeung Wai-chun, senior education officer of the Education Department's Non-local Higher and Professional Education Courses Registration Section, said the new legislation would ensure the public could make informed choices about the non-local courses they wished to follow in Hong Kong. 'Under the new legislation, it will be an offence for any person to issue a false or misleading advertisement about any regulated course,' Mrs Lee said. She said in order to achieve wider consumer protection, the control over false or misleading advertisements would also apply to pure distance learning courses. The new legislation is still being considered by the Legislative Council. Local tertiary institutions and approved post secondary colleges have been consulted on the general principles of the new legislation. 'The Hong Kong Council for Academic Accreditation has also been consulted and has confirmed its ability to provide expert advice as required,' Mrs Lee said. She said the Education Department would enforce the ordinance once the new legislation was enacted. Secretary for the University of Hong Kong's School of Professional and Continuing Education, John Cribbin, welcomed the move. 'The new legislation, once enacted, will put in place an effective quality assurance mechanism for courses conducted in the territory,' Mr Cribbin said.