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Executive Summary

The HE System

  1. Higher Education in Hong Kong is provided by a wide variety of public and private institutions. School leavers may obtain initial qualifications in the universities and colleges funded through the University Grants Committee (UGC), the Vocational Training Council (VTC) and directly by government. Most of these institutions offer a wide range of disciplines but two (the Hong Kong Academy for Performing Arts and the Hong Kong Institute of Education) specialise in limited areas. All are heavily subsidised by the taxpayer.

  2. Private providers of full-time courses leading to initial qualifications include Shue Yan, Chu Hai and Francis Hsu Colleges. Part-time courses, often taken by those already in employment, are given by the Open Learning Institute, the Hong Kong Management Association and others in Hong Kong, and by many overseas institutions.

  3. Full-time postgraduate courses leading to master's degrees or doctorates are restricted to the UGC institutions, but part-time provision is more widespread. There is a large and growing demand for Continuing and Professional Education (CPE) which is satisfied in part by UGC and VTC institutions, in part by trade associations and private colleges, and in part by employers in-house.

  4. In all, in 1994-95, there were about 135,000 full time equivalent students of higher education in Hong Kong, of which the largest components were 87,000 (including CPE) in the UGC institutions and 26,000 taking CPE courses in other ways. Additionally, 40,000 fte students from Hong Kong were in higher education institutions (HEIs) overseas. Higher education in Hong Kong absorbed about 6% of total recurrent public expenditure.

Recent Change

  1. During the early 1990's, the number of students in both the UGC and VTC institutions rose markedly as a result of a government decision (taken in 1989) that by 1994-5 the age participation rate should be 18% for first degree courses with a further 6% for sub-degree courses. This implied an expansion of about 50% in undergraduate numbers, and it was expected that postgraduate and CPE numbers would grow similarly.

  2. With such a large and rapid expansion, there was necessarily concern about the quality of both students and staff, where some 3,500 new appointments were needed. There has been a small diminution of HKALE scores of entrants to first degree courses during the expansion, but not sufficient to cause anxiety, and it should be remembered, in any case, that Hong Kong students are of high quality by world standards. Staff recruitment coincided with a paucity of jobs for academics world-wide, and good appointments were made.

  3. In addition to the expansion of opportunity in the UGC and VTC institutions, the last few years have seen the establishment and rapid growth of the OLI and the creation of the HKIEd. There has also been a substantial increase in private sector provision and, in particular, in courses provided by overseas institutions, many in collaboration with partners in Hong Kong.

  4. As well as the increase in student numbers, the recent past has seen a major development in research activity, mainly in the universities. This has happened in part as a result of increased government subvention, in part because of the creation of the Research Grants Council, but also because of the recruitment of many research-conscious staff during the expansion. Certainly there is now a much more thriving and widespread research culture than there was a decade ago.

The Current Position

  1. The higher education system has survived the recent rapid expansion in good heart. It can now satisfy all present student demand with adequate numbers of good staff, modern buildings and well-equipped libraries and laboratories. The only shortfall in capital provision is in student residences in the UGC institutions. The system is diverse and flexible and can meet the needs of both initial qualification and through-life personal and professional development.

  2. In the present lull in growth, it is convenient to take stock of residual problems. The most important of these is concern about students' competence in English (although there are also worries about Chinese, including Putonghua). Teaching in most HEIs, and indeed in many secondary schools, is nominally carried out in English, but the extent to which this is really true has diminished greatly in recent years. Adequate numbers of bilingual graduates are of great importance to Hong Kong's economy, and the UGC institutions are providing remedial and developmental English courses for their students, although major improvement can only come through the schools. The wider aspects of language competence are the subject of a recent Education Commission Report.

  3. A problem which is inherent in a non-expanding situation is that institutions cannot shift subject balance readily as student demand changes, since this implies shrinking or even closing some programmes. In order to maintain quality of intake in less popular areas, the UGC has made it known that it will not penalise under-enrolment where maintenance of quality is the cause. Another aspect of quality which is receiving much attention at present is that of the teaching provided and learning achieved. The UGC is undertaking teaching and learning quality process reviews in its own institutions, and similar studies are being carried out by the VTC and others. The Hong Kong Council for Academic Accreditation has much experience here.

  4. Rapid expansion tends to be a rather inefficient process in terms of value for money. In the present more stable situation, tighter and more effective use of resources should enable unit costs to fall. Additionally, some tasks associated with expansion will no longer have to be performed. The UGC has already adopted a financial model for grant assessment and distribution which it believes leads to better use of money, and it will be carrying out management reviews of its institutions to the same end.

The Future

  1. The emphasis in Hong Kong's higher education has been shifting from quantity to efficiency (as we have noted in the previous paragraph) and to quality. One aspect of this which excited much interest following the publication of our Interim Report in 1994 was the development of "areas of excellence" within the UGC institutions. These were to be formed by building upon perceived strengths to produce excellent groups which would be recognised internationally as of equal status to their peers elsewhere and which would justify substantial investment in state-of-the-art facilities. It was hoped that many of these groups would be working in areas of direct interest to industry and commerce in Hong Kong and the region, and that they would have a substantial role in teaching as well as research. We are still pursuing this development, and we shall be encouraging our institutions to free resources for it by closing down weaker activities and departments.

  2. More generally, it is important to Hong Kong's standing both economically and culturally that its higher education system, and the products of that system, should be seen to be of high quality and, preferably, as having unique characteristics. One special feature, on which much more effort needs to be expended if it is to be maintained successfully, is multi-lingualism. Another, more firmly established, is our students' ability to understand and work readily in both Eastern and Western cultures.

  3. We believe that it would be of advantage to Hong Kong to adopt a much wider regional role in higher education than it has done hitherto and, indeed, to become a regional centre for higher education. In particular, the limit on non-Hong Kong undergraduate students should be relaxed. Recruiting very good students from China and other nearby countries would undoubtedly imply additional costs for the Hong Kong taxpayer. But there would be substantial benefits. Some students would remain and work in Hong Kong, thus adding to the pool of high level talent. Those who returned to their own countries would be likely to maintain links with Hong Kong which would be of benefit to us as they acquired seniority in trade or government. All of them would add a leaven to our institutions which would be useful to our local students.

  4. As we have noted, the higher education system in Hong Kong currently enjoys a level of material and human provision - buildings, staff, libraries, laboratories - which is of a high order. It is important that there is adequate maintenance, up-dating and replacement so that this quality is retained. Given that, we believe that our HEIs have a very bright future, subject to three conditions. The first is that they use the current respite from the problems of expansion to establish a reputation for quality in both graduate output and research performance and relevance. The second is that they take on a wider regional role in initial qualification, postgraduate work and, particularly, CPE. The third is that relations between the institutions and government remain such that able scholars from all over the world feel attracted to work in Hong Kong, in the belief that bureaucratic intervention will be minimal. The rest depends upon imagination and dedication.

Further Reading

  1. Those who wish to explore further, but cannot spare time for the full report, are recommended to look at "The Outcome".



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