HKDSE - Hong Kong Diploma of Secondary Education

Hong Kong students who skip DSE exam for vocational studies can still go to university in landmark new programme

Pilot plan next year aims to train skills-based graduates at a younger age and boost their career opportunities

PUBLISHED : Monday, 20 November, 2017, 9:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 20 November, 2017, 9:18am

Hong Kong youth will soon have the option to skip the city’s high-pressure secondary school leaving examination to pursue vocational education at an earlier age without worrying about the lack of opportunities to obtain a degree later.

This route could signify a paradigm shift in the local education system, as a low percentage of pupils enter the vocational stream at secondary level compared with countries such as Switzerland.

Vocational Training Council executive director Carrie Yau Tsang Ka-lai revealed to the Post that the city’s largest provider of skills-based education planned to launch a pilot vocational baccalaureate programme next year.

It is to commence in September and take in those who have completed their Form Three education, with 50 places each for design and engineering.

Yau explained the current education system did not fully cater to students who were less academically inclined yet had potential in subject areas and skills considered more hands-on.

There are pupils who want to go to university, but do not want to be assessed just by the DSE
Carrie Yau, Vocational Training Council

“There are pupils who want to go to university, but do not want to be assessed just by the [Diploma of Secondary Education (DSE) examination].”

As such, the vocational baccalaureate programme was intended to cater to those who are more hands-on and prefer more project-based assessment, Yau said.

Unlike the diploma of vocational education, which the council now offers to those who have completed Secondary Three, graduates of the vocational baccalaureate can advance to the council’s Technological and Higher Education Institute of Hong Kong, also known as THEi, which offers vocationally-oriented bachelor’s degree programmes.

At present, only those with DSE qualification, or its equivalents, are recognised by THEi. Those with a diploma of vocational education must first graduate from a higher diploma programme, which is an admission qualification to enter the third year of four-year degree programmes.

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The pilot scheme is to feature a broad-based curriculum covering basic vocational modules in engineering or design; a Business and Technology Education Council extended diploma, a vocational qualification taken in England, Wales or Northern Ireland that is equivalent to a pass in three GCE A-level subjects; an International General Certificate of Secondary Education for English, Chinese and Mathematics, and whole-person development modules.

Details are yet to be confirmed whether the programme is to be funded by the government.

Yau said she found it highly unusual that most local pupils had to follow the purely academic route despite more than half not gaining admission to university.

Watch: Hong Kong pupils receive their DSE results

The DSE is notorious for inducing high stress among Form Six pupils as it is the main pathway for them to enter university. Such a route is largely viewed as key to success in Hong Kong society.

But in reality, fewer than half of these pupils meet the basic requirement for local universities.

This year, about 51,008 day-school candidates sat for the DSE, but only 20,801 obtained level 3 or above in both Chinese and English languages, level 2 or above in mathematics and liberal studies, and level 2 or above for one elective – the minimum requirements to enter local universities.

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Moreover, there are only about 15,000 first-year government-funded undergraduate seats available for these secondary school graduates at the city’s eight public universities. Those who do not make the cut for public universities can enrol in self-financing institutions.

While the diploma of vocational education allows Secondary Three graduates who do not want to continue with the academic route to switch to skills training, the executive director noted there was a low uptake of only less than 5 per cent.

Veteran educator Tai Hay-lap said the vocational baccalaureate programme would be good for young people as they would have more options in choosing between vocational and academic education. But he believed it was important to ensure that the available pathways were smooth.

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Tai added that the programme could affect the education ecosystem, especially if it were funded by the government. Hong Kong is facing a declining student population and different education sectors are keen to seek more funding. Hence the need to work closely with the government has grown acute.

Should the programme not receive government funding, vocational training could prove expensive and affect enrolment figures, Tai said. Pupils at public schools are now educated at no cost.