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LCQ18: Kindergarten education and study pathways for secondary school leavers

     Following is a question by the Hon Frederick Fung Kin-kee and a written reply by the Secretary for Education, Mr Eddie Ng Hak-kim, in the Legislative Council today (November 28):


     It has been reported that the Secretary for Education has indicated earlier that the Government will review its policies on higher education and early childhood education, implement three-year free early childhood education and increase the university cohort participation rate to one-third of the relevant age cohort in Hong Kong, and it is also expected that 15-year free education will be implemented by 2013 or 2014. The Chief Executive has also indicated in his election manifesto that "[w]e will provide free early childhood education. We will set up a working group under the Education Commission to work with stakeholders, including sponsoring bodies, principals, teachers and parents to formulate implementation details. We will also consider providing subsidies to child care centres and kindergartens towards their expenditure on teachers' salary" and that "[w]e will broaden the articulation pathways for secondary school graduates, including the provision of subsidy for attending universities on the Mainland, and more subsidised tertiary education opportunities (for both degree and diploma courses) and private university places in Hong Kong". In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:

(a) of the latest progress of the authorities' efforts in promoting free early childhood education; the progress in setting up the working group under the Education Commission; the authorities' initial proposal on the method and approach for implementing free early childhood education; the anticipated difficulties and technical problems which may be encountered; how they will improve the remuneration packages for kindergarten teachers and provide a stable environment for their development, so as to ensure that there will be well-qualified teaching staff to tie in with the implementation of free early childhood education; and the transitional arrangements and timetable for implementing free early childhood education; and

(b) whether, apart from students enrolled in undergraduate programmes, the number of students enrolled in other post-secondary programmes (e.g. sub-degree programmes) have been taken into account in calculating the current university cohort participation rate; if so, of a breakdown by type of programmes; of the specific methods to be used by the authorities to increase the university cohort participation rate in Hong Kong and the scope concerned; the respective percentages of first-year first-degree places and senior year articulation places provided for sub-degree holders in the number of additional subsidised places; whether the authorities will set a target for increasing the percentage of local students enrolling in subsidised undergraduate programmes; whether the authorities will conduct a review to see if measures to increase university places will give rise to or exacerbate problems of over-enrolment of students and variations in quality among some of the sub-degree programmes and self-financing post-secondary programmes, and how they will step up regulation to prevent such problems?



(a) Enhancing the quality of kindergarten (KG) education is one of the priorities of the current-term Government.

     KG education has become popularised in Hong Kong, with an enrolment rate of about 100%. The Government introduced the Pre-primary Education Voucher Scheme (PEVS) in the 2007/08 school year to provide fee subsidy for parents and support the professional upgrading of KG teachers. The level of fee subsidy has been raised progressively over the past few years to $16,800 per student per year in the 2012/13 school year.

     Since July 2012, we have conducted more than ten sharing sessions with different KG-related stakeholder groups to solicit their views and suggestions on the future development of KG education. We have also visited KGs with different operating modes and scales to better understand their actual operation. Through these exchanges, we noted that stakeholders have different understanding and expectations of further enhancement to KG education. For instance, on the mode of subsidy, some stakeholders expressed that the Government should subsidise KGs directly, following the mode adopted for aided primary and secondary schools so as to enhance the consistency of KG education provided, while some raised concerns on issues that may arise out of this arrangement, such as the need to set a threshold for the class size and centralise the allocation of KG places, as well as the sustainability and possible closure of some small KGs and its knock-on effect on the stability of the teaching force of the sector. Other stakeholders have reservation about adopting a standardised subvention mode, which they think may adversely affect the flexibility of the KG sector and hence their provision of diversified services for parents. Some have proposed enhancing the PEVS to provide parents with more subsidy and choices.

     KGs in Hong Kong have all along been privately-run. Their operation has been flexible and their services are diversified. With the flexibility under an effective regulatory framework, KGs are responsive to the needs of parents and KG children, and has been offering a wide range of services. This mode of operation, which has been in place for a very long time, also enables each KG to maintain its uniqueness according to the mission and culture of its sponsoring body. As a result, there is a huge diversity among the KGs in terms of their operating scale, school premises and facilities, rent and other operating costs, qualifications and number of teachers, payroll and school fees charged, etc. In view of this, further enhancement to the funding mode of KGs is a very complicated issue.

     In the light of the foregoing, we need more time to communicate with the sector and parents, study and consolidate the views of stakeholders, conduct more in-depth consultation and draw on overseas experiences. We have to give careful consideration to some major issues including the mode of subsidy, teachers' professional development and salary, school premises and rent, as well as the regulatory and accountability framework. We would also need to consider whether the proposed measures will hinder the diversified development of KGs, thereby undermining the sector's responsiveness to external changes, as well as parents' choices, etc.

     The Education Bureau (EDB) intends to set up before mid 2013 a committee and working groups to conduct further consultation on various issues of concern and put forward feasible options for consideration by the EDB.

(b) The Government promotes the parallel development of the publicly-funded and self-financing post-secondary sectors, and is committed to providing secondary school leavers with flexible and diversified study pathways with multiple entry and exit points. In the 2011/12 academic year, the overall undergraduate participation rate of the relevant age cohort was 31.1%, which was nine percentage points higher than the rate of 21.9% registered five years ago. Including students on sub-degree programmes, currently about two-thirds of our young people have access to post-secondary education. Detailed information about the undergraduate participation rate is set out below:

                                 2006/07     2011/12
                                 academic    academic
                                 year        year

Participation rate for           20.7%       23.9%
first-year-first-degree (FYFD)
programmes of the relevant age

Overall undergraduate            21.9%       31.1%
participation rate of the
relevant age cohort
(including senior year
/top-up degree programmes)

     At the undergraduate level, we continue to invest heavily in the publicly-funded sector. Starting from the 2012/13 academic year, the number of approved University Grants Committee (UGC)-funded FYFD places has increased from 14 620 to 15 000 per annum. For the self-financing sector, the number of self-financing degree-awarding institutions has increased to eight, doubling that in 2009. The number of places for full-time accredited self-financing undergraduate programmes has also increased from 3 100 in the 2009/10 academic year to 7 700 in the 2012/13 academic year.

     Sub-degree programmes lead to a valuable standalone qualification and is a progression pathway to further studies or employment. In recent years, there has been a remarkable increase in the articulation opportunities available to sub-degree graduates. In the next three academic years, intake places for UGC-funded senior year undergraduate programmes will double from 2 000 to 4 000 per annum, while intake places for self-financing top-up degree programmes have doubled from 3 000 in the 2010/11 academic year to 6 500 in 2012/13.

     We expect that by 2015, over one-third of our young people in the relevant age cohort will have access to degree programmes. Including sub-degree places, more than two-thirds of our young people will receive post-secondary education.

     Secondary school leavers may opt for articulation outside Hong Kong. Starting from this year, a number of higher education institutions in the Mainland has considered the admission of Hong Kong students based on their results in the Hong Kong Diploma of Secondary Education (HKDSE) Examinations or the Hong Kong Advanced Level Examinations (HKALE), thus exempting them from taking the Joint Entrance Examination for Universities in the Mainland. In 2013, as many as 70 institutions will join the scheme, seven more than in 2012.

     The Government attaches great importance to the quality assurance of post-secondary education. The Hong Kong Council for Accreditation of Academic and Vocational Qualifications (HKCAAVQ) is responsible for the quality assurance of all operators and programmes except the UGC-funded institutions with self-accrediting status. The HKCAAVQ assures, among others, that sufficient teaching staff with appropriate qualifications and experience are employed for locally-accredited self-financing sub-degree and undergraduate programmes. As for the UGC-funded institutions with self-accrediting status, quality assurance procedures are in place to monitor the quality of their programmes.

     The UGC recommended in its Report on Higher Education Review 2010 that a single quality assurance body for the entire post-secondary sector should be set up. While the Government will explore the possibility of eventually setting up a single quality assurance body, we have been implementing incremental steps to enhance the quality assurance mechanism:

     (i) The Government has transformed the Tripartite Liaison Committee (comprising the EDB, HKCAAVQ and Joint Quality Review Committee) and formed the Liaison Committee on Quality Assurance by engaging the Quality Assurance Council. The goals of the Committee are to promote sharing of good practices among all the quality assurance bodies and increase consistency and transparency so as to enhance accountability. Through the Committee, the EDB will follow up issues relating to admission and programme arrangements of institutions offering self-financing post-secondary programmes; and

     (ii) As stated in its response to the UGC's Report on Higher Education Review, the Government considers that periodic external audits and reviews should be conducted on community colleges or self-financing sub-degree operations under the aegis of UGC-funded institutions, so as to enhance quality assurance and ensure consistency and coherence in standards. To this end, the Government stipulates under the Sixth Matching Grant Scheme launched in August this year that UGC-funded institutions would need to undertake that their sub-degree operations benefitting from the Scheme should be subject to periodic quality audits by the HKCAAVQ in future. UGC-funded institutions participating in the latest round of the Start-up Loan Scheme and Quality Enhancement Support Scheme, which have recently been launched for self-financing institutions, are also required to make a similar undertaking. The EDB, in conjunction with relevant bodies, will study the implementation details.

Ends/Wednesday, November 28, 2012
Issued at HKT 14:26


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