Under the Non-local Higher and Professional Education (Regulation) Ordinance, Cap. 493 (the Ordinance), all courses conducted in Hong Kong leading to the award of non-local higher academic qualifications (i.e. sub-degree, degree, postgraduate or other post-secondary qualifications) or professional qualifications must be properly registered or be exempted from registration. For a course which will lead to multiple non-local higher academic qualifications or non-local professional qualifications, such as intermediate awards (which include exit awards), those parts of the course leading to different non-local higher academic qualifications or non-local professional qualifications are also regulated courses that have to be individually registered or exempted from registration under the Ordinance.
Full version of the Ordinance is available from the HK e-Legislation website( https://www.elegislation.gov.hk ). The salient points of the Ordinance are listed below for reference.
The Registrar of Non-local Higher and Professional Education Courses (the Registrar) will approve the registration of a course if it meets the criteria detailed in section 10 of the Ordinance. The major criteria include -
(a) In the case of a course leading to the award of non-local higher academic qualification by a non-local institution -
(b) As for a course leading to the award of non-local professional qualification by a non-local professional body -
(c) Satisfactory arrangements for payment and refund of the fee charged for the course. All the fees as well as the arrangements for payment and refund of fees and charges approved by the Registrar should be stated clearly in the contract with students.
According to the Ordinance, courses leading to the award of non-local higher academic qualifications or non-local professional qualifications (regulated courses) should be registered before they are conducted in Hong Kong . The registration requirement does not apply to the three types of courses as detailed in the "EXCEPTIONS" section below.
The Non-local Courses Registry (the Registry), headed by the Registrar, is responsible for processing all applications for registration and matters concerning the exemption of courses from registration. Operators of non-local courses should make their submissions for registration and exemption to the Registry.
To register a course, a completed "Form 1A" (for courses leading to non-local higher academic qualifications) or a "Form 1P" (for courses leading to non-local professional qualifications) as appropriate should be submitted to the Registry for each course, together with the relevant attachments and other supporting documents required set out in the Forms, as well as the fee. The application form and associated documents would be passed to the Hong Kong Council for Accreditation of Academic and Vocational Qualifications (HKCAAVQ) for a detailed assessment on whether the course fulfills the registration criteria under the Ordinance.
The HKCAAVQ would approach the applicant and the Non-local institution concerned for further information and clarification about the application. The HKCAAVQ would furnish the Registry a recommendation after completion of their assessment. Upon receiving HKCAAVQ’s recommendation, the Registry would then make a decision on the application and inform the applicant of the decision.
Operators of courses must first secure their registration or exemption status before conducting the courses in Hong Kong. Operators must submit duly completed application forms to the Registry at least four months before the commencement of the courses. The processing time may be varied by the number of applications received at a particular time, the complexity of the course and the availability of all required information. A longer period may be required if it is necessary to clarify and request further information from the operators. Operators are reminded that it is an offence to conduct courses without registration or exemption. Offenders are liable on conviction to a fine at level 4 and to imprisonment for 2 years.
The Ordinance provides for regulation of advertisement on non-local courses as follows -
In the case of a purely distance learning course where the operator chooses not to register under the Ordinance on a voluntary basis, the operator is advised whenever possible to state in the relevant advertisement that the course is a purely distance learning course and is therefore not subject to the registration requirement. This will act as a reminder to consumers.
Any person who publishes an advertisement to induce enrolment in any regulated course which is not registered or exempted commits an offence and is liable on conviction to a fine at level 4 and to imprisonment for 2 years. However, this does not apply to advertisement of a proposed course which is published to test the market.
Any person who publishes false or misleading advertisements on regulated courses or purely distance learning courses is liable on conviction to a fine at level 4 and to imprisonment for 2 years. For those who fail to include the necessary information in the advertisement in respect of registered and exempted courses as detailed in (c) and (d) above, they will be liable on conviction to a fine at level 3.
Operator of registered/exempted course must refund the relevant part of the course which ceases to be conducted due to -
(a) cancellation of the registration status of the course;
(b) cancellation of the exemption status of the course; or
(c) pre-mature cessation of the course.
Refund should be made within one month of such cancellation or cessation. Failing which the operator of the course commits an offence and is liable on conviction to a fine at level 4 and to imprisonment for 6 months.
To ensure courses are conducted in safe premises, operators of registered and exempted courses must furnish particulars of the premises to the Registrar using "Form 4" not later than three months before conducting the course in the premises. They are also required to seek the Registrar’s prior approval for using the premises. Aspects such as fire and buildings safety as well as compliance with the approved planning and land uses are among the criteria for granting prior approval.
Nevertheless, prior approval is not required for the following exempted premises -
(a) registered or provisionally registered schools;
(b) specified local institutions of higher education;
(c) premises designed and constructed for educational purposes; and
(d) function rooms within licensed or exempted hotels.
A course operator who fails to furnish particulars of the premises three months before conducting the course commits an offence and is liable on conviction to a fine at level 4. If a course operator conducts a registered or exempted course in the premises (other than those exempted premises) without the prior approval of the Registrar, he commits an offence and is liable on conviction to a fine at level 4 and to imprisonment for 6 months. Operators are also required to notify the Registrar and each student if there is any change of the address at which a registered course is conducted.
An operator may appeal to the Non-local Higher and Professional Education Appeal Board against the decision of the Registrar to -
(a) refuse his application for registration;
(b) impose conditions of registration in relation to a course; or
(c) cancel the registration of a course.
The Non-Local Higher and Professional Education (Appeal Board) Rules set out the appeal procedures.
ANNUAL RETURN AND MATTERS TO BE NOTIFIED
To ensure the registration criteria are met continuously, operators of registered courses have to submit annual returns using "Form 7A" or "Form 7P" (where appropriate) to the Registrar for scrutiny. They are also required to notify the Registrar and the students in writing of any changes in particulars that may affect the registration criteria (e.g. the operator/the content of the course is changed, the arrangement for payment/refund of the fee is changed) within 1 month of such change.
The Registrar may cancel the registration of a non-local course if the operator fails to comply with the requirements to submit the Annual Returns and notification for changes to the Registrar timely and accurately.
LOCAL ACCREDITATION OF NON-LOCAL COURSES
An operator can seek local accreditation by HKCAAVQ for its registered or exempted non-local courses, which is a quality assurance process that assesses a non-local course against a set of criteria to ensure the learning programme concerned meets minimum quality standards under the Hong Kong Qualifications Framework (QF). Under the Accreditation of Academic and Vocational Qualifications Ordinance (Cap 592), a registered/exempted non-local course accredited by HKCAAVQ enjoys similar status to locally-accredited programmes, and its qualification is recognised under the QF and can be placed on the Qualifications Register (QR). Accredited non-local qualifications attained by individual students will be recognised as meeting the standard of particular qualifications obtained in Hong Kong.
Operators may apply for partial reimbursement of the accreditation fees charged by HKCAAVQ for local accreditation of non-local courses upon successful accreditation, under the Accreditation Grant Scheme for Self-financing Programmes of the Qualifications Framework Fund . For details, please refer to the QF website (under the category of "Other Programmes") - https://www.hkqf.gov.hk/en/support/dss/index.html."
Accreditation does not replace the registration/exemption process under the Ordinance; its result will not affect the programme’s registration/exemption status.
The registration requirement does not, however, apply to the following three types of courses -
(a) courses conducted in collaboration with specified local institutions of higher education;
(b) "purely distance learning courses"; and
(c) courses conducted solely by local registered schools or local institutions of higher education.
(a) Courses Conducted in Collaboration with Specified Local Institutions of Higher Education
Courses conducted in collaboration with a specified local institution of higher education will be exempted from registration if the executive head of the local institution certifies that the course meets the criteria required for registration both in terms of the standing of the institution / professional body and the quality assurance and recognition status of the course. These local institutions are as follows:
Like that imposed on operators of registered courses, operators of exempted courses are required to submit annual reports and observe other rules in respect of advertisements, refund arrangements, safety of premises, etc.
(b) Purely Distance Learning Courses
"purely distance learning courses" are those conducted solely through the delivery of mail, transmission of information by means of telecommunication (e.g. TV, radio or computer network), or sale of materials in commercial outlets, etc., but without the institutions, professional bodies or their agents being physically present in Hong Kong to deliver any lectures, tutorials or examinations, etc. These courses are excluded from the registration requirement in consideration of the need to strike a balance between upholding the interests of consumer protection on the one hand and the need to avoid possible restriction on the freedom of expression (including the freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds) guaranteed under Article 16 of the Bill of Rights Ordinance. However, operators of these courses are encouraged to apply for registration to demonstrate that they fulfil the registration criteria.
To provide some form of consumer protection, advertisements in respect of purely distance learning courses are also subject to the regulation under the Non-local Higher and Professional Education (Regulation) Rules as elaborated in the section ADVERTISEMENTS" above.
(c) Courses Conducted solely by Local Registered Schools or Local Institutions of Higher Education
Courses conducted solely by local registered schools will continue to be governed by the Education Ordinance (Cap. 279). Courses operated by local institutions of higher education will also be monitored under the existing quality assurance measures for these institutions.
Application forms for registration/exemption are available on the website as well as at the Registry. Enquiries about the operation of the Ordinance can be addressed to -
Non-local Courses Registry
Room 603, 6/F
14 Taikoo Wan Road
Hotlines: (852)2520 0255, 2520 0559
Fax: (852)2520 0061