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LCQ11: Funding methodology of UGC

     Following is a question by the Hon Cheung Kwok-che and a written reply by the Secretary for Education, Mr Michael Suen, in the Legislative Council today (March 21):


     A number of social work teachers in the universities have earlier relayed to me coincidentally that there were news in the academia that the University Grants Committee (UGC) has amended its funding model for the institutions from the 2011-2012 academic year onward, as well as reduced the funding amounts, which resulted in some UGC-funded programmes not being fully funded.  Those teachers worry that the funding for teaching activities of the UGC-funded institutions (institutions) will be tightened, which will in turn affect students' learning as well as the number, remunerations and quality of teaching of teachers. In this connection, will the Government inform this Council if it knows:

(a) whether UGC has discussed any change in funding model since 2008; if it has, the changes; whether any plan to adjust the funding model is under discussion at present; if so, the details;

(b) whether UGC will, after granting the funds, monitor if the institutions have put the funds to effective use and formulated relevant indicators (including the courses offered, the numbers of student intake and teacher-student ratio of the courses, etc); if it will, whether it has any plan to amend such indicators within the next five years; if not, the reasons for that;

(c) following the approval granted by the Finance Committee of the Legislative Council in 2009 for the funding proposal on institutions for the 2009-2010 to 2011-2012 triennium, whether UGC has eventually reduced the funding for the institutions for the 2011-2012 academic year; if it has, the reasons for that; the respective amounts and percentages of reduction regarding the various institutions as compared to those of the previous academic year; how it ensures that the funding for the institutions will not be tightened because of the reduction in grants, which will affect students' learning as well as the number, remunerations and quality of teaching of teachers;

(d) given that quite a number of institutions offer self-financing programmes, the accounts of which are kept separately, whether UGC monitors if the institutions utilise the full amounts of their funding on the funded programmes; if it does, the monitoring mechanism; if not, the reasons for that; whether the institutions are allowed to utilise part of such funding on other purposes which may result in the funded programmes not receiving the full amounts of funding and the institutions having to look for extra resources for supplementary funding (including raising students' fees or offering self-financing programmes); how it ensures that the funded programmes maintain the quality of teaching and research under such circumstances;

(e) how UGC ensures that the social work programmes (in terms of teacher qualifications, teaching hours, practicum hours and student performance) offered by the institutions can train graduates who reach the standard of registered social workers verified by the Social Workers Registration Board;

(f) the criteria and formula adopted by UGC in determining the costs of the academic programmes and their weightings when it calculates the funding for various institutions;

(g) given that the authorities have pointed out in the paper for the meeting of the Finance Committee of the Legislative Council held on January 13, 2012 that, in determining the resources required by various institutions, the "relative cost weightings" of the "taught programmes" and "research programmes" under "social sciences" were both set at 1.0, whether this weighting has been changed as compared to that in the previous triennium; if it has, the reasons for that and the impact on the funding amounts for various institutions; whether UGC has assessed the effectiveness of various institutions in utilising the funding on teaching; and

(h) given that the paper mentioned in (g) indicated that "some subjects are more expensive than the others because they require special equipment, laboratory or more staff time", while the subject of social work which is categorised under social sciences similarly requires laboratory to train skills and, according to the criteria and standards of the Social Workers Registration Board, each student has to conduct a minimum of 800 hours' placement under the supervision of a fieldwork supervisor, why the weighting of the social work subject is set at 1.0 instead of 1.4 under the group with higher cost?



(a) The University Grants Committee (UGC) usually conducts academic planning and recurrent grants assessment with its funded institutions on a triennial basis.  The UGC basically adopts the funding methodology developed in 1994 for the assessment of recurrent grants required by the institutions.  Improvements are made to the methodology from time to time.

(b) and (d) The UGC Notes on Procedures specifies that institutions have autonomy in areas such as internal resource allocation and control of curricula and academic standards.  The block grant system provides for a one-line allocation of resources without attaching detailed requirements as to how it should be spent.  The allocation of the block grant between academic departments, divisions, or faculties, or between academic and administrative areas, is entirely an internal matter of the institutions.  Once allocations are approved, institutions have freedom and responsibility to determine the best use of their resources.

     While respecting institutional autonomy, the UGC adopts an accountable and transparent approach in ensuring value for money in respect of public funds entrusted to the institutions.  The UGC Notes on Procedures specifies that grants from the UGC to the institutions must be used within the ambit of "UGC-fundable activities".  The institutions are required to submit to the UGC an audited annual return after the financial year end to report on the use of UGC funds.  In addition, Heads of Institutions are requested to submit a Certificate of Accountability to the UGC every year to confirm that public funds allocated via the UGC have been spent in accordance with the rules and guidelines agreed by the institutions and the UGC.

     UGC-funded institutions are required to separate the accounts for publicly-funded and self-financing programmes.  They are not allowed to cross-subsidise self-financing activities with public funds.  Furthermore, on the premise that institutional autonomy is fully respected, the Financial Affairs Working Group under the UGC works with the institutions to help ensure their continuing good financial governance and sound financial planning.

     UGC-funded institutions must ensure the quality of all programmes they offer, including both publicly-funded and self-financing ones, by means of their internal quality assurance mechanisms.  In addition, the Quality Assurance Council under the UGC conducts quality audits on the institutions' undergraduate and postgraduate degree programmes (irrespective of whether they are UGC-funded) with a view to examining all aspects of the institutions' activities which contribute to student learning quality, so as to ensure the quality of such programmes.

(c) In line with the established arrangement, the funding for UGC-funded institutions for the 2009-12 triennium, which has been agreed by the UGC and the Government and approved by the Finance Committee of the Legislative Council, has not been adjusted, except for adjustments to take into account factors such as civil service pay adjustments during the triennium, or additional allocation arising from new initiatives.

(e) The institutions enjoy autonomy in determining their academic portfolios and offerings, as well as setting academic standards.  The UGC will not intervene in these areas.  Regarding social work programmes, according to the institutions concerned, they follow the relevant assessment standards of the Social Workers Registration Board when determining course portfolios, teaching/practicum hours and graduation requirements, etc, and follow up and review the programmes with the Board from time to time in order to ensure that their quality meets the registration requirements of the Board.

(f) to (h) The UGC calculates the teaching element of the block grant based on the number of places, levels of study (ie sub-degree, undergraduate, taught postgraduate and research postgraduate), modes of study (ie part-time and full-time), disciplines of study and the relevant costs, etc.  Some subjects are more costly because they require special equipment, laboratory, etc.  In consultation with the institutions, the UGC has put relative cost weightings by broad academic programme categories into three price groups since the 2005-08 triennium, namely, "medicine and dentistry", "engineering and laboratory based studies" and "others" (eg law, social sciences, business and management studies, architecture and town planning).

     Regarding funding for social work programmes, such programmes are now grouped under "social sciences", and the relative cost weightings of the relevant teaching and research programmes are 1.0, which is the same as some other professional programmes such as law, architecture and town planning, and education.  In determining the relative cost weightings of different academic programme categories, the UGC had carefully considered their requirements and costs, such as the need to procure expensive equipment for training purposes.

Ends/Wednesday, March 21, 2012
Issued at HKT 16:27


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