Following is a question by the Hon Szeto Wah and a reply by the Secretary for Education and Manpower, Professor Arthur K C Li, in the Legislative Council today (July 9):
In the 2000 Policy Address, the Chief Executive set the target of letting 60% of Hong Kong's senior secondary school leavers receive tertiary education within 10 years. In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:
(a) of the projected numbers of post-secondary places in University Grants Committee-funded and self-financing programmes respectively, their percentage changes in the total number of places as well as students' enrolment in such programmes in each of the 10 years mentioned above; and of the percentage changes in the government funding involved in the same period;
(b) of the names of education providers funded by the Start-up Loan for Post-secondary Education Providers, the amount requested by and granted to the education provider in each loan application, the courses involved, the number of courses broken down by education level, and the estimated and ultimate number of places provided; and
(c) given that, except for the three types of programmes specified by the authorities, other Associate Degree programmes will run on a self-financing basis, of the results of the authorities' assessment of the impact of the change on students' affordability, the quality of courses, and the competition between universities (including schools of continuing education and institutions offering external programmes) and non-university education providers in the market?
(a)The number of local post-secondary places in the 2001/02, 2002/03 and 2003/04 academic years were 31 064, 33 348 and 37 848 respectively. Of these, 55% to 68% were University Grants Committee (UGC)-funded programmes, and about 22% to 32% were self-financing programmes (details at Annex 1)(pdf format).
In the next few years, UGC will, based on the academic development plans of individual institutions, continue to fund various programmes in accordance with the established triennium funding mechanism. The actual enrolment figures are yet to be decided, but as recommended in the Higher Education Review, we will provide additional Year 2 and 3 places if resources permit, and will gradually withdraw subvention for some sub-degree and taught postgraduate programmes (the number of affected programmes is set out at Annex 2)(pdf format). As for self-financing programmes, the supply and demand of student places are basically market-driven, as determined by the education providers. We have seen good progress in the development of the post-secondary sector over the past few years. The overall participation rate of the relevant age cohort has increased from around 33% in 2000/01 to 48.5% in 2003/04. Following the trend, we believe the number of post-secondary places will continue to grow steadily in the coming years.
According to information provided by the Office of the Joint University Programmes Admissions System, a total of 34 724 and 35 199 applications for enrolment on UGC-funded programmes were processed in the 2001/02 and 2002/03 academic years respectively. Regarding self-financing programmes, we understand from the institutions concerned that a total of 17 247 and 21 077 applications were received in the 2001/02 and 2002/03 academic years respectively.
Funding provided by the UGC is in the form of a block grant, and the institutions may decide for themselves how to use the grant. Based on the institutions' report on their actual expenditures, public funds amounting to some $1,450 million and $8,380 million were spent on sub-degree and degree programmes respectively in the 2001/02 academic year. Figures for the 2002/03 academic year and beyond are not yet available.
Self-financing post secondary programmes are mainly supported by tuition fees, but the Government has also put in a considerable amount of resources to provide various kinds of financial assistance to students and education providers, including grants and loans (without quota) for students, allocation of land at nominal premium for the construction of campuses, and the provision of interest-free start-up loans and accreditation grants with a total commitment of $5,030 million. Over the past two academic years, the Government has provided financial assistance totaling about $2,900 million (details at Annex 3)(pdf format). Looking ahead, as the Government withdraws subvention from publicly-funded sub-degree programmes, we will use most of the savings to enhance the financial assistance for post-secondary students.
(b) Since the introduction of the Start-up Loan Scheme in 2001, loans of around $2,300 million have been offered to 11 non-profit-making post-secondary education providers to cover the costs of renting, buying or building college premises, and those of refurbishment and equipment. Details of the loans provided to various institutions are at Annex 4(pdf format). As the student places supported by these start-up loans will gradually come on stream in the next few years, the ultimate number of places to be provided is not available at the moment.
(c) With an expanding self-financing post-secondary sector, there is a need to review the funding mode for sub-degree programmes and to free up resources so that more students may benefit from public subsidies in one form or another. At present, the tuition fees of self-financing post-secondary programmes are around $30,000 to $50,000, which are comparable to those of publicly-funded programmes. With student financial assistance, I believe that the change in the funding mode for sub-degree programmes will not seriously affect the programmes' affordability. In fact, most of the savings achieved by changing the funding mode for sub-degree programmes will go back to the students in the sub-degree sector, in terms of better financial assistance.
Regarding the quality of study programmes, all courses offered by the universities, be they publicly-funded or self-financing ones, have to go through the institutions' own quality assurance mechanisms. For institutions which do not yet have a self-accrediting status, their sub-degree programmes have to be accredited by the Hong Kong Council for Academic Accreditation before they can become recognised programmes.
Besides, as the review of funding mode aims at rationalising the operation of the post-secondary education sector and providing a fairer ground for providers of self-financing programmes, we believe it will encourage healthy competition among institutions and improve the cost-effectiveness of the programmes.
End/Wednesday, July 9, 2003