Any cut in Hong Kong’s UGC-funded sub-degree places must be carefully weighed

PUBLISHED : Friday, 07 July, 2017, 4:47pm
UPDATED : Friday, 07 July, 2017, 10:31pm

I refer to the letter from Regina Ip (“Ensuring a quality education in HK must remain prime concern”, June 26) responding to mine (“Carrie Lam’s vouchers for self-funded students a good move”, June 22).

I said that Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor’s voucher scheme was in essence a subsidy intended to help eligible students to offset the higher tuition fees of self-financed degrees. I agree that the programmes provided by institutions, whether self-financed or government-funded, should be maintained and monitored for quality, if Hong Kong is to remain competitive as a knowledge-based economy. Both groups get substantial government support, financial or otherwise, and were established under the relevant ordinances as major education providers. The former must charge fees on a cost-recovery basis, as tuition fees are the major income source for them to operate in the open market subject to market forces.

Programmes funded by the University Grants Committee (UGC), however, operate in a protected arena, charging an annual fee of HK$42,100 (for undergraduate degrees), which has remained unchanged over two decades. The government has provided substantial funding to UGC-funded degree places, with each student place roughly costing over HK$200,000.

The Hong Kong Council for Academic Accreditation and Vocational Qualifications is the accrediting body for all operators of sub-degrees and undergraduate degrees outside the UGC-funded sector. The self-financed sub-degree programmes offered by units of the UGC-funded institutions are accredited by their respective parent institutions and are not subject to quality audit by an independent body.

If one is looking for parity of academic quality of the sub-degree programmes, whether government-funded or self-funded, there must be a body similar to the Quality Assurance Council. The government should clarify whether such a body exists or measures have been put in place to ensure the quality of all self-financed sub-degree programmes, however funded.

Mrs Ip says, that “while increasing publicly funded senior year undergraduate places for sub-degree students, the government is reducing UGC-funded sub-degree places with a view to phasing them out by 2018/19”.

The increase in senior year UGC-funded degree places provides more pathways for sub-degree graduates. From 2001, the government encouraged the growth of self-financed associate degrees to broaden school leavers’ options outside the traditional higher and professional diplomas. But many of these diplomas remain government-funded because they meet manpower needs in certain sectors. Hence, any reduction in UGC-funded sub-degree places should be carefully considered.

Tony Leung, Kwai Chung