Chapter 9: The Role of the UGC, and the Review

9.1 Having made its decisions about structural change in 1988 and expansion in 1989, the government asked the University Grants Committee to advise on and oversee their implementation. To help it in this task the UGC formed an internal sub-committee, the Sub-committee on Revision and Expansion (SCORE), to liaise with the institutions, to advise the main committee on ways forward and, once major policy decisions had been taken, to act as an executive arm. For five years, until 1994 when its task was done, the sub-committee dealt with much of the detailed argument and tried to free the main committee to consider only the larger issues. Whatever the merits and demerits of the arrangement (and there were both), SCORE had the unique distinction of being the only UGC sub-committee ever to have a pronounceable acronym.

9.2 Although external circumstance - in particular changes in the school system - and a desire on the part of all of its institutions to participate effectively in the coming expansion meant that the UGC had little difficulty with the implementation of the major recommendations of ECR3, there were a number of worries about the expansion itself. Most of them revolved around quality - in particular the quality of the students and the quality of the staff. The first of these remains a matter of concern and is perhaps inseparable from a move from a low to a much higher age participation rate. In Hong Kong there is a particular worry about ability in communication, largely although not wholly related to language skills.

9.3 Between the first year of the quadrennium of expansion (1991-92) and the present year (1996-97) when roll-over effects have almost ceased and numbers have stabilized, the fte student population in UGC institutions has increased by 32% and in the UGC institutions and the VTC technical colleges taken together by 46%. Allowing for this expansion in load and for academic staff coming to the end of contracts, retiring, or leaving for other reasons, it has been necessary during this period to make some 3,500 new appointments. There was considerable concern within the UGC, the VTC and the institutions as to whether it would be possible to recruit and retain staff in these numbers who would be of adequate calibre.

9.4 As a help to staff recruitment the UGC took two specific measures. First, it funded and encouraged its institutions to form a Working Party on Joint Recruitment Efforts which arranged promotional activities in various countries to publicize our need for staff and the opportunities available in Hong Kong. Second, it persuaded government that the then four non-university institutions (now City University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong Baptist University, Hong Kong Polytechnic University and Lingnan College) should be able to adopt university salary scales for staff primarily engaged in degree level work.

9.5 In the event, our worries about staff recruitment proved to have been exaggerated. Partly because the main period of recruitment coincided with a slump in the academic job market world-wide, partly because of high salary levels in Hong Kong, and partly because we were able to offer opportunities to join in exciting new teaching ventures and good research facilities, our institutions were able to recruit many talented and enthusiastic staff and there were few unsatisfactory appointments.

9.6 One of the tenets of the UGC is diversity. The Committee believes that a system in which each institution tries to emulate its neighbour is unlikely to make the best contribution to the needs of Hong Kong. The UGC therefore, as part of the expansion process, discussed with each of its institutions a distinctive role. Those roles are given as part of the longer statement about higher education in Annex C of our Interim Report (see Annex A) and are summarized in Table 32.1 in Chapter 32.. They will continue to illuminate the UGC's consideration of the academic plans and funding of its institutions.

9.7 As will be seen from paragraph 8.1 item (iii), the University Grants Committee was asked not only to implement structural revision and expansion, but also to review progress in 1993-94 and advise on the way forward after the end of the 1992-95 triennium. In the event, the UGC decided to report in two stages. The report requested by government in 1993-94 would be made slightly earlier (in 1992-3) as our Interim Report. It would cover progress with the revised structure and the joint admissions scheme, experience of the first two years of the expansion, student number projections up to 2001 and planning figures for the 1995-98 triennium. The final report would be made shortly after the end of the 1991-95 expansion period (in 1996) and would review what had been achieved and make suggestions for the future development of the UGC institutions.

9.8 Although the dates of reporting have been adhered to, the Interim Report was more comprehensive than envisaged in the previous paragraph, and the final report, for reasons which we now turn to, has become quite different from a simple review of the UGC's own bailiwick.


The principal addition to the topics in the Interim Report listed in paragraph 9.7 was a long philosophical section giving three possible scenarios for the future of the UGC institutions:

  1. The institutions should limit their interests to local student recruitment and the local labour market. Teaching might gradually be given more and more in Cantonese. In time the institutions could become indistinguishable from many similar ones in the neighbouring province.

  2. The institutions should limit their interests to local recruitment and the local labour market, but should make a positive stand on bilingualism. This would require much more effort than is being made at present. Their graduates would be distinguished from those in the hinterland primarily because of their communication skills (including fluency in English) and this would help to maintain Hong Kong's international position.

  3. The institutions should incorporate centres of excellence having local, regional and international functions. They should provide very high quality bilingual manpower for both Hong Kong and the hinterland and should act as points of reference, particularly in Business and Social Studies and in innovative science and technology for developments in Southern China and more widely. Some undergraduate students and many postgraduate students would be recruited from outside Hong Kong.

The implications of option (iii) were spelt out in some detail (see paragraphs 21 to 28 of Annex A).

9.10 The UGC first submitted its Interim Report to the government in May 1993. The report was considered by the Executive Council (ExCo) in August 1993 and the Committee's specific proposals on the indicative student number targets for the 1995-98 triennium were approved for broad planning purposes and communicated to the UGC-funded institutions accordingly. Subsequently the UGC submitted, in November 1993, a revised Interim Report, incorporating further discussion, as requested by ExCo, on some of the Committee's longer term suggestions and recommendations.


This revised Interim Report was considered by ExCo in February 1994 and as a result the government decided that:

  1. approval in principle should be given for the adoption of the UGC's most outward looking scenario as the basis of its continuing review of the development of higher education beyond 1994-95;

  2. the UGC should be requested to give further detailed consideration in its final report to the policy issues raised by the Administration relating to the strategic, academic and resource implications of the preferred option to develop centres of excellence within the tertiary institutions; and

  3. the UGC should make available its revised Interim Report as a public document with a view to consulting interested parties before submitting its final report on the Development of Higher Education.

9.12 The UGC's revised Interim Report was published in March 1994 for a period of nearly five months public consultation up to 31 July 1994. Copies of the Report were distributed to all local tertiary institutions, other sectors of education, employers' organizations and other interested parties for their information and seeking their comments. Copies of the Report were also made available by the UGC Secretariat to members of the public upon request.


A total of 52 submissions commenting on the Interim Report were received during the consultation period. Written comments were received from the seven UGC-funded institutions as well as from individual academics, from various educational bodies, and from other organizations and individuals. A list is at Annex C. The points made in the various submissions in response to the Interim Report related mainly to the following issues:

  1. the establishment of "centres of excellence" and how to obtain efficiency gains to help in financing them;

  2. a performance-related funding methodology;

  3. quality assurance issues;

  4. the UGC's mission statement;

  5. reconsideration of a 4-year curriculum for undergraduates;

  6. the provision of continuing education;

  7. the number of non-local research postgraduates; and

  8. the scope of the Review.


In September 1994, members of the UGC considered all the various comments, both formal and informal, which had been received during the consultation period on the Interim Report and they agreed that there were a number of issues that needed to be further addressed in the Review, including the establishment of areas of excellence, the effects of the increasingly permeable border with China and a deeper exploration of the purposes of higher education in the Hong Kong context. Members also felt that there were other issues, where their consideration would benefit from meetings with interested parties, in particular :

  1. the provision of sub-degree programmes and the demand for sub-degree graduates in Hong Kong;

  2. the provision and funding of continuing and professional education in Hong Kong; and

  3. the quality of matriculants, the quality of undergraduate education and the community's expectations of graduates.

A series of seventeen consultation sessions was therefore arranged. A list of those attending is given in Annex D.

9.15 The consultation process with government, ExCo, institutions, professional bodies and the public which followed the writing of our Interim Report led to much deeper enquiry and, in the case of (b) and (c) in the preceding paragraph, the commissioning of external help. The most major change, however, to the final report as we had originally envisaged it (paragraph 9.7) lay not in its depth, but its breadth. We were asked by respondents and eventually by government to extend our enquiry to the whole of higher education.

9.16 This implies discussion not merely of our own institutions, but those of the VTC, the other subvented or partially subvented bodies such as the APA and OLI, the private colleges, both commercial and charitable, the higher education provided by professional bodies, trade associations and overseas government agencies and by institutions outside the territory, and the substantial amount of in-house training undertaken by employers. The UGC's resources are finite, and knowledge of some aspects of higher education is not always readily available or readily intelligible. We have done our best in a limited time frame, but the result is necessarily imperfect : to those who feel that we have neglected them or misinterpreted their contribution, we offer our apologies.

9.17 There now follows our review of higher education. We begin with a survey of the present landscape, which forms Section C of our report. Section C is preceded by a proem.

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