LCQ3: Student Travel Subsidy Scheme

     Following is a question by the Hon Starry Lee Wai-king and a reply by the Secretary for Education, Mr Michael Suen, in the Legislative Council today (February 29):


     At present, except under the Student Travel Scheme offered by MTR, students have to pay full fares when taking other modes of transport such as public buses and ferries, etc.  Moreover, students who wish to apply for subsidy under the Student Travel Subsidy Scheme ("STSS") offered by the Student Financial Assistance Agency are required to meet a number of criteria (including passing the means test, residing beyond 10 minutes' walking distance from school and travelling to school by public transport).  The amount of travel subsidy provided under STSS is just sufficient to pay for the average public transport fare for home-school travel, and does not cover the travelling expenses incurred when students take part in other learning activities.  In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:

(a) of the increase in the number of beneficiaries and government expenditure to be resulted in expanding the public transport fare concessions scheme ("fare concessions scheme") for the elderly and persons with disabilities to cover all students receiving formal primary, secondary education or attending a full-time day course up to first degree level in an acceptable institution in Hong Kong; whether it will consider expanding the fare concessions scheme to cover such students; if it will, of the details; if not, the reasons for that;

(b) whether it will suggest the Community Care Fund to look into the feasibility of providing the aforesaid fare concessions to full-time students; if it will, of the details; if not, the reasons for that; and

(c) when the scope of assistance under STSS was last reviewed; whether the Government will consider relaxing the eligibility criteria for applying for STSS and increasing the amount of subsidy with a view to encouraging students to participate in different kinds of activities and broadening their learning experience; if it will, of the details; if not, the reasons for that?

Reply :


(a) The Student Travel Subsidy Scheme (STSS) is a means-tested financial assistance scheme which aims to provide cash subsidy to needy students pursuing full-time studies at primary, secondary and post-secondary levels up to the first degree for the purpose of meeting their expenses incurred on home-school travels.  The means-test mechanism currently applicable to various student financial assistance schemes assesses the applicants' eligibility for financial assistance on the basis of their gross annual household income and household size. The gross annual household income of the eligible family, when translated into monthly family earnings, is generally comparable to the median household income.  Depending on the actual financial situation of the applicantˇ¦s family, the student-applicant may receive a full rate or a half rate of travel subsidy for home-school travels.  At present, there are approximately 900 000 students studying full-time from primary up to first degree levels.  In the 2010/11 school year, around 231 000 students were eligible for and received travel subsidy.  To enhance financial support for needy students, we have relaxed the income ceiling for full level of assistance of the means-test mechanism in the 2011/12 school year.  The percentage of students eligible for full rate of travel subsidy as against the total number of STSS beneficiaries increased from around 30% in previous school years to 57% in 2011/12.  The estimated disbursement under STSS will increase by $75.35 million (or around 21%) to $427.35 million in the 2011/12 school year.  The subsidy rate for individual students depends on the distance between the students' residences and their schools.  In 2011/12, the median travel subsidy amount received by primary and secondary students is $1,258 per student and that for post-secondary students is $2,457 per student.

     If the Public Transport Concessions Scheme for the elderly and persons with disabilities is extended to cover all students receiving primary, secondary education or attending a full-time day course up to first degree level in an acceptable institution in Hong Kong, all 900 000 students, including those from families without any economic hardship, will benefit from this scheme.  In view of the large number of students involved and the great variations in the mode of transport, travel patterns, frequency and travel distance involved for individual students, it is not possible to accurately estimate the additional amount of government expenditure involved at this stage.

     To safeguard the proper use of public money, we consider it appropriate to continue with the existing arrangement which restricts student travel subsidy to eligible needy students.

(b) The Community Care Fund (CCF) is established to provide assistance to people facing economic difficulties, in particular those who fall outside the social safety net or those within the safety net but have special circumstances that are not covered.  The CCF also takes forward initiatives on a pilot basis to help the Government identify those measures that can be considered for incorporation into the regular assistance and service programmes.  As the STSS already provides regular travel subsidy to needy students, the Government has no intention of inviting the CCF to consider providing extra travel subsidy to full-time students.  

(c) STSS was last reviewed in 2004 when the Cross-net Travel Subsidy Scheme and the STSS were merged as a unified financial assistance scheme to cover all local full-time primary to post-secondary students up to the first degree level with financial need. The scope of beneficiaries was also enlarged to include needy students aged below 12 who were attending private schools and schools under the Direct Subsidy Scheme.  The proposal was subsequently implemented from 2004/05 onwards.  We continued to expand the scope of beneficiaries under STSS thereafter.  In the 2008/09 school year, STSS was extended to cover full-time sub-degree graduates studying self-financing locally-accredited degree or top-up degree programmes.  In May 2011, the income ceiling for full level of student financial assistance under the means-test mechanism was relaxed such that more student-applicants passing the means-test could receive full assistance.

     As the Government has been encouraging and supporting needy students to participate in extra-curricular activities through a number of different schemes, we have no plan to relax the eligibility criteria and increase the subsidy rate of STSS.

Ends/Wednesday, February 29, 2012
Issued at HKT 12:59