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Fee waiver interests Hongkongers in retaking secondary school diploma exam for kicks

Budget announcement that next year’s candidates won’t have to pay for exam sparks interest from those who graduated years ago, resulting in talk of limiting eligibility

PUBLISHED : Friday, 02 March, 2018, 8:50pm
UPDATED : Friday, 02 March, 2018, 11:33pm

A goodwill plan to pay fees for the Hong Kong secondary-level leaving examinations has enticed those who graduated long ago and prompted the city’s finance chief to consider limiting it to school candidates.

In his 2018/19 budget address on Wednesday, Financial Secretary Paul Chan Mo-po said the administration would use part of the government’s substantial surplus this year to cover the cost of taking the Diploma of Secondary Education (DSE) examination next year.

Chan described the plan – expected to total about HK$180 million (US$23 million) – as a modest move to show that officials care for young Hongkongers.

A government source said there would be no age limit for the plan and that it would cover both pupils in school and those who had graduated in previous years.

After the announcement, many internet users spoke of sitting for the exam “for fun”, raising concerns of a surge in candidates crowding out those taking it to enter university.

This sparked fears such as whether additional people would affect the overall grading mechanism.

Speaking in Beijing on Friday, Examinations and Assessment Authority chairman Rock Chen Chung-nin said he was not worried about people abusing the system and flocking to sign up.

The authority’s job is to implement the proposal smoothly and professionally regardless of the number of people taking the exam
Rock Chen, Examinations and Assessment Authority

Chen added that the authority had estimated there would be more candidates.

“The authority’s job is to implement the proposal smoothly and professionally, regardless of the number of people taking the exam,” Chen said. He believed the additional candidates would include those seeking to retake the Chinese or English language portions “to attain better marks”.

The financial secretary first commented on Thursday that he thought the number of “extreme cases” of people taking the exam despite no longer being in schoolwould be small.

But at the Legislative Council later that day, Chan changed his tone, saying he would consider limiting the policy to school candidates after education sector lawmaker Ip Kin-yuen said he received many complaints.

On a radio programme on Friday, a father whose daughter was due to take the exam next year said he preferred to pay for it.

“My daughter was telling me that the uncertainty about potential effects from [additional candidates taking the exam] was making her worried,” he said.

The father added that those who sought to enter university had to spend two to three years working hard and were under significant stress.

On the same radio programme, a 60-year-old retired civil servant said he intended to take the four core subjects of Chinese, English, mathematics and liberal studies.

“I did not do well back in the day,” he said, adding that he was unable to gain admission to university.

“Now that I’m retired, I want to take the exam to find out where I stand in those subjects.”

He added he would not sit for it if he had to pay and acknowledged that candidates like him might affect those taking the DSE to enter university.

The government announced the measure after DSE exam fees rose over the past three years. Fees for the language portions this year increased to HK$619, up by HK$24 from the previous year, while the fees for other subjects climbed HK$16 to HK$414.

How will the extra HK$2 billion for recurrent spending on education help Hong Kong students?

A student typically takes six subjects: English, Chinese, mathematics, liberal studies and two electives.

The Examinations and Assessment Authority previously said the fee increases in recent years was due to a steady drop in candidates, which directly affected its income.

An authority spokeswoman said the number of candidates would not affect one’s performance as it would be graded against a set of standards.

Additional reporting by Tony Cheung