Educators are discussing the possibility of introducing four-year undergraduate programmes to provide students with both general and in- depth knowledge of their field of study. The proposal was put forward at a seminar on higher education organised by the Education Commission and the Society of Hong Kong Scholars. Professor Wong Yuk-shan, chairman of the Education Commission's sub-group on higher education and vice-president of City University of Hong Kong, said the four-year tertiary education the group was proposing was different from that proposed by the Heads of Universities Committee. In an attempt to redefine first degree courses and to broaden students' scope of knowledge, the sub-group is studying undergraduate education in Canada and Australia. At present, local universities offer three-year honours degree programmes. Professional programmes such as medicine and dentistry take longer. But in Canada and Australia, university students learn the basics of their field of study in a three-year general degree programme. They can then move on to a one-year honours degree programme, which provides them with more advanced and specialised knowledge in their field. Students can only pursue postgraduate studies if they have obtained an honours degree. The sub-group is considering lengthening honours degree programmes in Hong Kong to four years. Professor Wong said most university students studied courses which were too specialised instead of learning the basics. He said a general degree would provide students with a basic knowledge of their field, while an honours degree would pave the way to research work. 'The fourth year would be a special qualification year.' Professor Wong said the proposed system would give universities more flexibility to run honours degree programmes by introducing a broader curriculum. The academics also discussed the setting up of community colleges and private universities as an alternative to higher education. Professor Wong said full-time community college programmes would absorb 20 to 30 per cent of students in the 17 to 20 age group, in addition to the 18 per cent admitted to university. Professor Cheng Kai-ming, pro vice-chancellor of the University of Hong Kong, said community colleges and private universities would provide students with a second chance to attain tertiary qualifications. The sub-group has put forward the 'lenient entry, strin gent graduation' principle, which would improve the inter face between community colleges and universities. It said the two-year associate degree programmes offered by community colleges would include vocational training and re medial courses for those who did not do well in the public examinations to gain admission to university. Professor Cheng suggested a quality assurance mechanism and a comprehensive qualifications accreditation system be set up to facilitate recognition and transferability of qualifications. Nigel French, secretary general of the University Grants Committee, said the Government had not notified the committee whether it would be responsible for the development of community colleges. The university admission system and a fully transferable credit system were also discussed at the seminar.