The University Grants Committee is considering increasing the number of places for students who join universities after taking associate degrees and higher diplomas. The measure is part of a review of higher education in Hong Kong. A review group, led by Sir Colin Lucas, warden of Rhodes House at the University of Oxford, will also consider whether to increase the quota of international students above 20 per cent - the government's current maximum. But the review may not recommend a change in the number of publicly funded undergraduate places, which has been fixed at around 14,500 since 1991, despite calls for expansion. A senior UGC official said it was very likely that the number of additional third- and fourth-year undergraduate places for graduates of associate degrees and higher diplomas would be increased. The review group would also look at introducing some sort of mechanism to ensure universities stuck to their designated roles after City University forged ahead with plans to launch a vet school despite a lukewarm response from the government, the official said. The vet-to-animal ratio in Hong Kong is 1:600, compared to 1:1,600 in the United States, and the HK$150 million the university planned to pump into vet education could provide training for 50 doctors, 150 nurses and 200 engineers. 'City University said it will fund the vet school with its own resources if there is no backing from the UGC. But such donations and raised funds are still public resources and we have to think about its best use,' the senior official said. 'The UGC is not a statutory body and we cannot stop the university setting up the vet school. But we have to see if there should be a mechanism to regulate the universities' operation. We respect their independence, so any proposal will need to be fair and accepted by all parties.' Edmund Ko Inq-ming, of the review committee, said they were 'clearly aware' there was a need to provide more opportunities for graduates of associate degree and higher diploma, or subdegree, programmes to move up to undergraduate programmes but they had not decided on hard figures. 'And we are going to look at whether to increase the international student quota above 20 per cent. The review is about how do we provide an international environment in our campuses and within the system,' he said. The senior official said it was important to ensure students who graduated from associate degree courses and other vocational programmes would have a chance to study at universities. At present, there are about 3,000 places for them. Simon Leung Tak-wing, director of the Hong Kong Community College, said the focus on providing more places for such graduates was most welcome. 'Our graduates are very capable and strongly motivated and they deserve a [place] to further their studies in order to gain a degree,' he said. 'At the moment less than 50 per cent of subdegree graduates get the places that they deserve. 'The government should first of all provide more second-year places at UGC-funded institutions and then encourage [them] to offer self-financed places [on] UGC-funded programmes.' That would involve increasing the number of second-year places from the 3,000 to 4,000 at present to between 10,000 and 12,000. 'The remaining 50 per cent of subdegree graduates should have the opportunity to pursue their degree studies in private institutions,' Leung said. A spokeswoman for City University said it had submitted its application to establish a school of veterinary medicine to the UGC. 'It has been City University's long-standing belief that Hong Kong should continuously diversify its professional education so as to create and expand opportunities for our young people,' she said. The UGC is holding consultative meetings this month with people involved in higher education about the review, which was launched two years after its scheduled start date.