Tertiary students applying for a new financial aid scheme at the end of the month face uncertainty because the full list of accredited institutions, including private colleges hoping to benefit from the scheme, will not be finalised for another two to three months. The Financial Assistance Scheme for Post-secondary Students (FASP), a means-tested grant and loan fund, was announced last week. The Education and Manpower Bureau invited about 30 potential course providers and their principals to a private meeting to introduce the scheme last Saturday. The initiative is targeted in particular at students enroling in new associate degree and sub-degree programmes, though bachelor degree students can also apply. Under the scheme, grants or loans will be given to help students pay for tuition fees for full-time accredited courses. Fiona Chak, deputy controller at the Student Financial Assistance Agency, said it was expecting about 3,000 students to apply. Wong Wai-sum, executive director of the Hong Kong Council for Academic Accreditation (HKCAA), said students could enrol in courses at institutions that were still waiting for accreditation, but that they would be in the dark for several months as to whether they would receive a loan. 'Students should fully understand their obligations when they enrol. Those who are concerned should seek information from the institution about what will happen, what their rights are and be prepared for all possible scenarios,' she cautioned. Mervyn Cheung Man-Ping, chairman of the Association for Continuing Education, said students would suffer from the 'serious time gap'. 'This is a real loss to the students, and it is not the first time. We have seen time gaps happen in other areas,' he said. He cited as an example a deadline of July 28 for applications for associate degree programmes being set ahead of the August 8 announcement of HKCEE results, which could affect students' choices. Mr Cheung said it was costly and time-consuming for institutions to gain accreditation for a programme. Registering a programme cost $36,000 and academic validation cost about $500,000, he said. 'It should be the responsibility of the student to choose a programme. If it turns out to be a bad one they can always withdraw,' he said. To be included in the loan scheme, said HKCAA chairman Professor John Leong Chi-yan, private institutions must be accredited by the HKCAA or one of 10 other professional bodies covering a range of industries from the Hong Kong Society of Accountants and the Law Society of Hong Kong to the Hong Kong Institute of Surveyors. The seven SAR universities are self-accrediting and need no approval. Professor Leong said that if institutions supplied the HKCAA with appropriate documents, it would take two to three months to determine accreditation through an institutional review and programme validation. 'The institutional review will look at mechanisms of quality assurance, from academic standards to the quality of the teachers. A panel, including a number of specialists in the subject, will determine the programme validation,' he said. Ms Wong would not reveal the names of institutions applying for accreditation but said there were plans to review three large, private institutions over the next three months and that the HKCAA had also spoken to a further two colleges that were considering applying. She said the names of the accredited institutions would be given to the Education and Manpower Bureau as soon as the results were known. An Education and Manpower Bureau spokeswoman said a list of associate degree programmes accredited so far would be published next week, ahead of the HKCEE results. The list would be regularly updated as other institutions were accredited, she said. Students eligible for FASP must be aged 25 years or below and have been resident in Hong Kong for three years. The level of funding will be conditional on a test of family income and assets. Those eligible for 100 per cent assistance will obtain grants. Others will receive loans. The aid level is capped at $60,000 per year. Students granted financial assistance will receive funding from September. 'For this year only, we will accept late accreditations from institutions and back-date funding,' Ms Wong said. Application forms for the scheme will be available from programme providers and the Education and Manpower Bureau ( www.info.gov.hk/emb/eng/ ).