One university in Hong Kong wants to ensure there’ll be enough trained health care workers for the sick and old in future
Open University aims to offer programmes such as physiotherapy, palliative care, dietetics and dental nursing, as city prepares for an ageing population
As the city’s understaffed public hospitals struggle with the current surge in flu patients and with an expected spike in the ageing population, one university in Hong Kong has ambitious plans to ensure there are sufficient health care workers in future.
Open University, which was set up by the government in 1989 but is self-funded, on Wednesday said it was planning for new courses for allied health professionals, in addition to its general and mental health nursing degree programmes.
Professor Joseph Lee Kok-long, acting dean of the university’s School of Nursing and Health Studies, said it was working with a US university to set up a Doctor of Chiropractic programme in the next academic year or so, and this would be a first for the city.
He anticipated an intake of about 20 to 30 students.
The school was also planning for undergraduate programmes in physiotherapy and occupational therapy, and if these materialised, it would be the second institution in the city to have those courses.
Polytechnic University offers a bachelor’s in physiotherapy, while self-financing Tung Wah College runs a bachelor’s course in occupational therapy.
Lee added that other planned courses included a master of dietetics, and a bachelor of nursing to convert enrolled nurses to registered ones. Registered nurses require more training and command higher pay compared to enrolled nurses.
Lee, a lawmaker representing the health care sector, said he hoped the physiotherapy course would begin next year and anticipated an intake of about 40 to 50 students for that and the occupational therapy course.
He added that fees would be roughly the same as what its full time students in the five-year nursing programmes pay, which is less than half – or HK$243,500 – of the actual cost of HK$593,500 after government subsidies. There are currently 3,000 full-time and part-time students in the nursing programmes.
Under the Study Subsidy Scheme for Designated Professions/Sectors, about 3,000 students per cohort pursue designated full-time self-financing undergraduate programmes across Hong Kong, in disciplines where there is a lack of manpower.
Lee said he was also keen to launch diplomas in dental nursing and rehabilitation sciences, and certificate programmes in palliative care and adolescent health.
The proportion of people aged 65 or older in Hong Kong rose from 12 per cent of the population in 2006 to 16 per cent in 2016. By 2041, this figure is estimated to hit about 33 per cent, with one in three Hongkongers being a senior citizen.
The city has a chronic shortage of health care workers and this becomes especially dire during flu season, such as this winter. There is also a dearth of elderly care workers, leading to calls for the government to use more foreign labour.
Open University currently has one of the largest nursing programme enrolments in the city, training students to be mental health, enrolled and registered nurses. Its School of Nursing and Health Studies was recently upgraded from a division in the university.
Last December, the university also broke ground with its new teaching facility, the OUHK Jockey Club Institute of Healthcare located opposite its main campus on Sheung Shing Street in Ho Man Tin.