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Universities in Hong Kong

Separating self-financing arms from public universities will help, not hurt them, Hong Kong education task force says

  • Proposal is among 13 recommendations presented in report by panel on private tertiary institutions
PUBLISHED : Friday, 28 December, 2018, 9:28am
UPDATED : Friday, 28 December, 2018, 11:01pm

A task force appointed by the Hong Kong government to review the private tertiary sector has dismissed concerns from the self-financing arms of publicly funded universities that their branding and appeal to students would be affected after they separated from their parent institutions.

The suggestion to detach the private extensions of these universities was among the 13 recommendations presented in the final report by the task force on review of self-financing post-secondary education established by the government last year to study the role of private tertiary institutions. These schools have about 60,000 sub-degree and undergraduate students in the city.

Submitting the report to the Education Bureau on Thursday, task force chairman Professor Anthony Cheung Bing-leung explained that having the private extensions regulated by an updated Post Secondary Colleges Ordinance instead of their parent university’s statutes would help them. They could, for example, benefit from support measures for institutions under the ordinance.

He added that the task force was aware of the schools’ concerns regarding linkage to the parent institutions and academic accreditation, which were reflected during a two-month public consultation launched at the end of June, and said these issues could be addressed flexibly.

“Ultimately, it should be for the university governance body, namely the council, to decide the details of the linkage, to the best interest of the university,” he said.

These included matters such as branding and sharing of some campus facilities at cost, added Cheung, a former president of Education University when it was known as the Institute of Education.

“Regarding accreditation, we think that there could be some kind of agreement where the government and the Hong Kong Council for Accreditation of Academic and Vocational Qualifications allow these self-financing arms to continue to use their university’s accreditation process,” he said.

Call for tighter monitoring of Hong Kong private education institutions

The ordinance currently provides for the registration and control of 10 tertiary institutions, including Shue Yan University, Hang Seng University and Chu Hai College of Higher Education.

Cheung said the government should also do a comprehensive review and update of the ordinance, taking reference from comparable provisions in the statutes governing publicly funded universities in areas such as governance and transparency.

He added that putting self-financing arms under the ordinance would promote coherence in the private education sector in terms of quality assurance and governance.

There are currently six publicly funded universities with one or more private arms, including Polytechnic University’s College of Professional and Continuing Education.

Peter Yuen Pok-man, the college’s dean, was undecided on whether he supported the recommendation, noting that there were many details that needed to be sorted out.

“There are no details on the new legislation, for example, in the future, what is the relationship between an independent institution and its mother university and what will be the transitional arrangement,” Yuen, who is also the chairman of the Federation for Self-financing Tertiary Education, said.

Hong Kong’s private tertiary institutions may need to find their own niche to survive

He was also worried about issues regarding branding, and hoped that under the new system, the separated new school could have the right to choose its name if the mother university agreed to it.

Under the proposed arrangement, the six schools governed by the Education Ordinance, such as the Hong Kong Institute of Technology, would also be placed under the same ordinance.

But Cheung pointed out that this detachment from the universities would not be applicable to self-financing programmes provided by the university itself rather than subsidiaries established outside the university. The University of Science and Technology and Education University offer a small number of such programmes.

Education sector lawmaker Ip Kin-yuen noted that under the proposed arrangement, students from the private arms of publicly funded universities would also benefit from an annual subsidy of HK$30,800 (US$3,933) when pursuing full-time self-financing undergraduate programmes in Hong Kong if they met the entry requirements or had completed relevant sub-degree programmes.

Students at these private arms were formerly not eligible for the subsidy.

Ip noted that some of the current independent private institutions had expressed concerns about having lower enrolment if the private arms could benefit from both the subsidy and the connection to their mother universities.

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The report also recommended providing more financial support of a non-recurrent nature to facilitate improvement measures in areas such as programme and staff development or upgrading of facilities.

Other recommendations included having a fair and transparent mechanism for deregistering operators falling short of their original plan and prescribed standards after a reasonably long trial period, and conducting a review of the structure and curriculum of sub-degree programmes.

Secretary for Education Kevin Yeung Yun-hung said the bureau would study the review report and consider its recommendations.