LCQ13: Admission of local and non-local students to research postgraduate programmes

     Following is a question by the Dr Hon Helena Wong and a written reply by the Secretary for Education, Mr Eddie Ng Hak-kim, in the Legislative Council today (May 14):


     Some members of the education sector have pointed out that among the students admitted to some research postgraduate programmes run by the University Grants Committee-funded tertiary institutions (funded institutions) in recent years, 70% to 80% of them were/are non-local students, which highlights the imbalance in the admission of local and non-local students. In this connection, will the Government inform this Council whether it knows the following in respect of the academic years between 2011/12 and 2013/14:

(1) the respective annual numbers of (i) applicants for, and (ii) those of them admitted to, subsidised Master of Philosophy and Doctor of Philosophy programmes run by each funded institution, with a breakdown by the places of domicile (i.e. Hong Kong, Mainland China and overseas countries) of the applicants; and;

(2) the respective numbers of local students graduated with first-class honours, second-class (upper division) honours or second-class (lower division) honours or holding other academic qualifications who (i) applied for, (ii) were admitted to, and (iii) were rejected by, the programmes mentioned in (1) each year, and set out a breakdown, by institution and academic discipline, in tables of the same format as the table at Annex 1?



     Research is crucial to higher education development and enhancing the competitiveness of an economy. With a view to boosting the research capability in Hong Kong through attracting high quality talents from around the world, the Government accepted and the Panel on Education of the Legislative Council was briefed on the University Grants Committee (UGC)'s recommendation in 2002 that the quota for non-local research postgraduate (RPg) students for the UGC-funded institutions should be removed. The UGC's recommendation, which was formulated after extensive consultation with the institutions, academics and the community at large, is conducive to attracting the best talents worldwide to enhance the quality of research in Hong Kong, thereby ensuring that public money is spent on the most worthy causes, and is in line with international practice. In contrast, imposing restrictions on the number of non-local students for the RPg programmes would only pose hindrance to the pursuit of academic excellence by local higher education sector and lead to a loss of high quality research talents and projects to other places. It should be noted that top-notch universities worldwide also have a relatively high proportion of non-local postgraduate students, e.g. 62% for the University of Oxford.

     Response to the specific questions is set out below:

(1) In the 2012/13 academic year, the number of local applications for UGC-funded RPg (including Master of Philosophy (MPhil) and Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)) programmes was 2040, which was submitted by an estimated number of around 1020 local applicants. 531 of these local applicants were eventually admitted, which accounted for 52.1% of the estimated number of local applicants or 26.0% of the number of local applications. As regards the remaining 47.9% of local applicants, they included those who eventually declined admission offers from UGC-funded institutions in order to pursue other opportunities, as well as those who were not given offers having regard to their academic credentials. In contrast, the number of applications for UGC-funded RPg programmes by non-local students was 18600 in the 2012/13 academic year. The number of non-local intakes in the same year was 1876, accounting for 10.1% of the non-local applications.

     Details of the 2010/11 to 2012/13 academic years, including the number of applications and intakes of UGC-funded MPhil and PhD programmes, by institution and place of origin, are set out at Annex 2. Admission to RPg programmes is conducted throughout the year and still ongoing for the 2013/14 academic year.

(2) Applicants for admission to RPg programmes come from diverse backgrounds and may not be applying on the strength of a Bachelor's degree alone. For admission to an MPhil programme, an applicant is normally required to have obtained a Bachelor's degree, with honours not lower than Second Class, or equivalent, from a recognised institution. For PhD admission, the applicant may be a current MPhil student applying for transfer to PhD candidature, a PhD candidate in another recognised institution applying for transfer, or a holder of a relevant Master's degree from a recognised institution. Some UGC-funded institutions also consider direct PhD admission of an applicant with a Bachelor's degree with proven outstanding academic performance (e.g. First Class Honours). In addition, certain RPg programmes have more specific requirements. Qualifying examinations to test the applicants' abilities to follow the prescribed courses and/or interviews may be conducted. For research students to benefit under the Hong Kong PhD Fellowship Scheme, applicants should demonstrate outstanding qualities of academic performance, research ability / potential, communication and interpersonal skills, and leadership abilities.

     The UGC does not collect information from institutions on the qualifications of applicants for UGC-funded RPg programmes. It should be reckoned there are diversified choices of further studies and employment available for local students after graduation from undergraduate programmes, e.g. full-time employment, full-time / part-time taught postgraduate programmes, etc. The decision of local students on whether and where to pursue postgraduate studies, especially RPg studies, is often a personal choice affected by various factors, such as prevailing employment opportunities in the market, students' career orientation and prospect in the teaching/research fields, rather than the terms provided to students for their graduate studies. Furthermore, for local students who choose to pursue RPg studies, quite a number of them would do so at overseas universities, so that they can conduct research under a different culture and environment. Moreover, UGC-funded institutions currently have yet to fully utilise their over-enrolment capacity, meaning that if outstanding local students apply to study RPg programmes, UGC-funded institutions will still have spare capacity to consider their admission on a merit basis.

Ends/Wednesday, May 14, 2014
Issued at HKT 13:19