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LCQ18: Quality of sub-degree programme graduates
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     Following is a question by the Hon Abraham Shek and a written reply by the Secretary for Education, Mr Eddie Ng Hak-kim, in the Legislative Council today (February 19):

Question:

     It has been reported that according to the Survey on Opinions of Employers on Major Aspects of Performance of Sub-degree Graduates in Year 2010 released recently by the Education Bureau, the score for the overall performance of those graduates as assessed by employers has hit a record low among the same surveys over the past decade. In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:

(a) whether it knows the graduation rates of sub-degree programme students in each of the past five years;

(b) as the aforesaid survey reveals that the performance score for English language proficiency of sub-degree programme graduates is on the low side among the various attributes, whether the Education Bureau has assessed the causes for this situation; if it has, of the results and improvement measures in place; if not, the reasons for that;

(c) as self-financing sub-degree programmes offer more than 30000 places each year, whether the authorities will draw up a set of common academic standards to be attained by graduates of such programmes so as to ensure the quality of the graduates; if they will, of the details; if not, the reasons for that; and

(d) whether it will conduct in the near future a comprehensive review on the way forward in respect of sub-degree programmes; if it will, of the details; if not, the reasons for that?

Reply:

President,

     We place equal emphasis on both quality and quantity in our policy objectives to promote the post-secondary education, in the hope that our young people can be equipped with appropriate attitude, skills and knowledge when they join the workforce, while being successful in their study and having their potential unleashed. To this end, the Education Bureau (EDB) has commissioned a consultant to conduct an opinion survey among employers every three years or so to collect data on the job performance of graduates from post-secondary programmes and the feedback of employers.

(a) As there are various factors affecting the time of graduation of students pursuing post-secondary programmes and some may take a longer time to graduate, generally speaking, institutions do not compile statistics on the graduation rates and EDB can only provide the number of graduates. According to the information provided by institutions, the respective number of sub-degree graduates in the last five years is tabulated below:

Year     Number of sub-degree graduates
----     ------------------------------
2008               19832  
2009               21608  
2010               22530
2011               22662
2012               24872
              
(b) The most recent employers' opinion survey covered students graduated from full-time locally-accredited publicly-funded and self-financing first degree and sub-degree programmes in 2010. The survey sought to capture information about graduates' performance in nine major aspects íV language proficiency (English language and Chinese language), work attitude, analytical and problem-solving abilities, numerical competency, information technology literary, inter-personal skills, management skills, technical skills and knowledge of current affairs and self-learning ability.

     The survey results show that employers were generally positive about the performance of sub-degree graduates at the workplace. About 93 per cent of the respondents found the performance of these graduates average or above and the overall performance score was 3.35 out of 5. For all the nine major aspects of performance, the average score was above 3, that is, between "generally meets the employers' requirements" and "sometimes exceeds the employers' requirements". As a matter of fact, the overall performance score of sub-degree graduates was generally stable over the past decade (2000-2010), fluctuating within a narrow margin between 3.35 and 3.44. At the same time, it is inappropriate to make a direct comparison between the overall performance scores of graduates in different years as the coverage varies. After discounting the score for the newly-introduced aspect (knowledge of current affairs and business issues, self-learning ability and self-esteem), the overall performance score of sub-degree graduates of 2010 should be 3.38, which compares favourably to the score of 3.36 of their counterparts in 2000. This is elucidated in the executive summary of the survey report to put readers in the context.

     For English language proficiency, sub-degree graduates of 2010 achieved a score of 3.13, which indicates that the employers surveyed considered their performance "generally met the employers' requirements" and "sometimes exceeded the employers' requirements". Moreover, as much as 80 per cent of the surveyed respondents were of the view that the English language proficiency of these graduates met or exceeded their requirements.

     In fact, EDB has been providing various support measures to help improve the language proficiency of post-secondary students. Among them includes setting up the three-year Quality Enhancement Grant Scheme (QEGS) in 2009 to support one-off worthwhile non-works projects or initiatives that help enhance the quality of teaching and learning of self-financing post-secondary programmes. During the roll-out period of the Scheme, EDB approved a total of 16 English enhancement projects for students and the total funding involved exceeded $20 million. Building on the successful experience of the QEGS, EDB set up the Quality Enhancement Support Scheme under the Self-financing Post-secondary Education Fund in 2012 to render continued support to the self-financing post-secondary sector in launching projects that help enhance teaching and learning effectiveness as well as learning experience. One of the major aspects of these projects is to enhance students' language proficiency.

(c) A sub-degree (including Associate Degree and Higher Diploma) is a valuable standalone qualification as well as a pathway to further studies or employment. According to the surveys of graduates in 2012 conducted by institutions (with a response rate of 84 per cent out of the 24872 graduates from full-time sub-degree programmes), 53 per cent pursued further studies and 42 per cent were engaged in employment.

     To promote and enhance the quality of sub-degree programmes offered by post-secondary institutions, EDB has implemented the following initiatives:

(i) A set of Common Descriptors (CDs) for Associate Degree and Higher Diploma programmes was promulgated in 2009 for the compliance of sub-degree programme providers and quality assurance bodies. The CDs, setting out the requirements in areas such as entrance requirements, curriculum content and learning outcomes, were further updated in 2010 to tie in with the implementation of the New Academic Structure. Under the revised CDs, applicants are eligible to apply for admission to Associate Degree or Higher Diploma programmes if they attain Level 2 in five Hong Kong Diploma of Secondary Education (HKDSE) subjects including Chinese Language and English Language;

(ii) Sub-degree programmes must be locally-accredited before relevant information could be uploaded to the Information Portal for Accredited Post-secondary Programmes (iPASS) and the Qualifications Register;

(iii) A Handbook on Good Practices in Quality Assurance for the sub-degree sector was published in 2010 to set out the essential principles and practices in quality assurance; promote the sharing of good practices among institutions; enhance quality assurance consistency across the sector; and further improve the overall quality of the sector; and

(iv) The Liaison Committee on Quality Assurance, comprising representatives from EDB, the Hong Kong Council for Accreditation of Academic and Vocational Qualifications, the Joint Quality Review Committee and the Quality Assurance Council of the University Grants Committee, keeps in view matters related to quality assurance (such as ensuring the compliance of CDs among relevant parties); promotes sharing of good practices among all quality assurance bodies; and increases consistency and transparency so as to enhance public accountability.

(d) Looking ahead, we anticipate a declining population in the relevant age cohort. While the Government is committed to providing our young people with flexible and diversified study pathways with multiple entry and exit points, we believe it is time to consolidate the sub-degree sector by enhancing the programmes in both quality and quantity. Implementation and incremental enhancement of polices is a cyclic process. On quantity, the EDB has maintained communication with the education sector to address relevant issues. The Committee on Self-financing Post-secondary Education established in April 2012 has served as an effective platform for discussing among the sector macro and strategic issues, including the supply and demand of places for post-secondary education to facilitate institutions in making appropriate adjustments to their programmes and number of places. On quality, we believe that only quality programmes could ensure sustainable development. Institutions are aware that they must improve the quality of teaching and learning and promote the development of professional and vocational training with due regard for the long-term manpower needs of the community, so as to ensure employers' recognition of the quality of graduates and the qualifications that programmes lead to.

Ends/Wednesday, February 19, 2014
Issued at HKT 13:31

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