Chapter 39 : Forming a Picture

39.1 Our Review of Higher Education opened with Section C - six chapters describing the present landscape. It proved to be extremely rich and diverse. Taking students as the descriptor, we have 40,000 on full-time first degree courses in Hong Kong and a further 28,000 on full-time undergraduate courses overseas. In addition, there are some 16,000 fte students studying part-time for first degrees, half of them through the OLI. In the sub-degree area 22,000 fte students are taking higher diploma or other high level courses, 2,500 fte are studying for higher certificates or their equivalents and 1,000 fte for a variety of other qualifications.

39.2 Some 6,700 fte students are engaged in postgraduate work in Hong Kong, either on taught courses or as research students, and there are a further 12,000 overseas. The largest category of those enjoying higher education is, however, the 46,000 fte students in CPE. About half of this number are working in UGC institutions and half in other subvented or private colleges or in-house at their employers.

39.3 Looking at the landscape in a different way, focusing on the providers, we have the institutions funded through the UGC, the VTC's Technical Colleges, the APA and the OLI. Then there are Shue Yan, Chu Hai, Francis Hsu and many other private or charitable colleges, the Adult Education Section of the Education Department, the Hong Kong Productivity Council and a large number of professional or trade organisations such as the Hong Kong Management Association. Within Hong Kong we have help from overseas through such bodies as the British Council, the Goethe Institute, the Alliance Fran(aise, and the many universities worldwide which provide courses in conjunction with partners here. Additionally, large numbers of Hong Kong students seek higher education by travelling themselves to institutions outside Hong Kong.

39.4 The range of subjects, of levels, of modes of studying and of institutions is so wide that almost any need of the student can be satisfied. We have tried to draw a simple picture of this (in fact) very complex system in Figure 39.1. The diagram, as its title implies, omits the overseas contribution. The widths of the flows are proportional to the numbers of fte students per year.

Figure 39.1 Higher Education in Hong Kong


39.5 It will be seen that the major flow from school into employment occurs after secondary 5, although there are smaller flows at secondary 3 and secondary 7. Not all of these pupils are lost to higher education. Some will enter sub-degree or first degree courses on a part-time basis and many will benefit from CPE. At both secondary 5 and secondary 7 there are flows from school into sub-degree work, afforced by some entrants already in employment.

39.6 Full-time first degree courses recruit almost entirely from secondary 7, but there is a substantial flow into part-time undergraduate education from the employed. Most full-time first degree students enter employment after graduating, but about a quarter stay on to take postgraduate courses or become research students. They are joined by returners with employment experience.

39.7 The dominant single feature of the upper part of Figure 39.1 is not, however, any of the flows associated with sub-degree, first degree or higher degree work. It is the very large activity in CPE. In studying the diagram, it is important to remember that the width of each flow is proportional to the number of fte students entering the activity in a single year. For full-time courses lasting at least one year, this will be the first year enrolment. For part-time courses lasting at least one year it will be the first year enrolment multiplied by a full time equivalence factor. Many CPE courses, however, last less than one year, and a further scaling factor of the fraction of a year for which the course lasts has to be applied. The large flow shown for CPE thus represents several hundred thousand individual students. As can be seen, the magnitude of the flow into CPE is of the same order as those for all of the other forms of higher education combined.

39.8 In our Review, we devoted the four chapters of Section E entirely to this important area of CPE. There is a very large number of providers, including specialist units within the UGC institutions, the OLI, Caritas, VTC, HKMA and HKPC and many smaller organisations offering particular or general skills. A great deal of CPE is, of course, given in-house by employers. The present system seems to work well and to meet the needs of both students and employers. It has expanded rapidly in recent years and seems set to continue to do so.

39.9 It is, of course, possible to draw other pictures of the present landscape than that delineated in Figure 39.1. An obvious sub-division is by subject area. Business studies are very popular, with about a quarter of all undergraduates in Hong Kong taking them. There is some evidence that for Hong Kong first degree students in overseas universities, the proportion may be even higher. Business studies also attracts 25% of sub-degree students. Within the business area, a quarter (or 6% of all students) are reading accountancy.

39.10 Engineering has 15% of undergraduates both in Hong Kong and among Hong Kong students studying overseas, but this proportion is doubled for sub-degree courses. Electrical or electronic options are popular. The arts and science each attract similar numbers of undergraduates to engineering, but are less well represented at sub-degree level. Social sciences account for 10% of students and education is a smaller but important area. Medicine is high in terms of cost, but not in terms of numbers.

39.11 Business Studies (particularly the MBA) account for a quarter of taught postgraduate students. Education is of similar size and engineering and law are also important. There are few taught postgraduates in science or the arts. Two-thirds of research students are in scientific or technological areas. Nearly a half of RGC research grants go to science and medicine, and a third to engineering. Information on the subject balance within CPE is limited, but a great deal is concerned with various aspects of management.

39.12 Taking an overall view, it may be said that the largest area of activity in higher education in Hong Kong is business studies. Engineering and science are also important, with the arts only marginally behind. Education and the social sciences follow, with computer science, the built environment, law and medicine occupying smaller but important niches. The distribution is shown pictorially in Figure 39.2.

Figure 39.2 Activity in Higher Education in Hong Kong


39.13 A picture of the present state of higher education in Hong Kong which requires no artistic skill on our part, since it is visible to the eye, is the view of the buildings. Public sector higher education in Hong Kong is well provided with space for the tasks which it performs and, because of expansion, the academic buildings are remarkably young, with half of the stock less than six years old. The equipment within them is also up-to-date, with 50% of the larger items being less than three years old. Even the academic staff who work in the buildings are young, with a median age of 43. The newness of most of the "plant" is very satisfying, but it should not be an excuse for deferring programmes of regular maintenance and replacement.

39.14 The composite picture which we can form from the preceding paragraphs is of a higher education system offering diverse and flexible opportunities to students of all ages and backgrounds, well provided with facilities, and especially concerned with subject areas of value to Hong Kong. It seems to us, however, that two questions about this system need to be addressed. The first is "Is it any good?" The second is "Is it the right size and shape for our future needs?" We tackle these questions in our next chapter.

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