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LCQ12: Monitoring of self-financing post-secondary programmes

     Following is a question by the Hon Wong Yuk-man and a written reply by the Secretary for Education, Mr Eddie Ng Hak-kim, in the Legislative Council today (December 10):


     In recent years, a number of post-secondary institutions funded by the University Grants Committee have operated self-financing post-secondary (SFPS) programmes through their self-financing departments. Some students studying in such programmes have relayed to me that in recent years, these institutions have offered such programmes indiscriminately and increased the tuition fees substantially. Yet, the numbers of students admitted to these programmes are excessive while the teaching quality and facilities of such programmes are unsatisfactory. Regarding the monitoring of SFPS programmes, will the Government inform this Council:

(a) whether the authorities will, by making reference to the licensing systems for domestic free television programme services and for sound broadcasting services, require post-secondary institutions to apply for time-limited licences for operating SFPS programmes renewal of which is subject to the outcome of the authorities' interim review of the programmes, as well as set penalties for violating the licensing conditions, so as to step up the regulation of these programmes;

(b) whether the authorities have regularly assessed the teaching quality, financial management and operations of SFPS programmes; if they have, whether they will publish the assessment outcome; if they have not assessed, whether they will conduct such assessments;

(c) given that some members of the public consider that, as the City University of Hong Kong (CityU) was provided with an interest-free loan by the authorities in 2005 for building the school premises of the Community College of City University (CCCU), the formation of a strategic alliance between CCCU and an Australian university last month is tantamount to CityU's selling CCCU, which is not in the public interest, whether the authorities will consider afresh taking measures to proactively monitor the formation of the alliance by CCCU; and

(d)given that the eight publicly-funded post-secondary institutions reportedly recorded an average surplus of about $400 million in each year from 2009 to 2011 for operating SFPS programmes, how the authorities monitor the use of such surpluses by these institutions?



     The Government has adopted a two-pronged approach to promote the parallel development of both publicly-funded and self-financing post-secondary institutions in order to provide more diversified articulation opportunities.

(1) & (2) The eight institutions funded by the University Grants Committee (UGC) are autonomous statutory bodies, each with its own ordinance. They enjoy a high degree of institutional autonomy in academic development and administration. UGC-funded institutions must ensure that all programmes (however funded) have to successfully complete their internal quality assurance mechanism and meet all relevant criteria including entry requirements, exit standard and the quality and standards of teaching and learning. As an additional safeguard, the Quality Assurance Council was established by UGC in 2007 to assure the quality of publicly-funded and self-financing educational provision at first degree and above levels leading to a Hong Kong award. Separately, the quality of self-financing sub-degree programmes offered by the executive arms of UGC-funded institutions is assured by the Joint Quality Review Committee formed under the Heads of Universities Committee.

     To further enhance quality assurance and ensure consistency and coherence in standards, the Government considers that periodic external audits and reviews should be conducted on programmes below degree level offered by the aegis of UGC-funded institutions. To this end, a working group involving UGC, UGC-funded institutions, and the Hong Kong Council for Accreditation of Academic and Vocational Qualifications (HKCAAVQ), with a representative of EDB as observer, has been established to formulate the operation model and mechanism of external audits and reviews.

     Furthermore, the Committee on Self-financing Post-secondary Education (CSPE) has earlier engaged an external consultant to conduct a Consultancy Study on Local and International Good Practices in the Governance and Quality Assurance of the Self-financing Post-secondary Education Sector, with a view to developing a code of good practices for further advancing the development of the sector. The report of the Consultancy Study was published in August 2014. The full report and the executive summary have been uploaded onto the Concourse website ( for access by the public. In consultation with relevant stakeholders, CSPE will compile a code of good practices on governance and quality assurance for the self-financing post-secondary sector. The code is scheduled for release in the first half of 2015 for the self-financing institutions (including the self-financing operations of the UGC-funded institutions) to adopt on a voluntary basis.

     As institutions providing post-secondary programmes and operators providing free television programme or sound broadcasting services are completely different in nature, they could not be compared.

(3) While enjoying a high degree of institutional autonomy in academic development and administration, each UGC-funded institution, including the City University of Hong Kong (CityU), should be mindful of the interests of the students and the public and be held accountable for its decisions. Generally speaking, UGC-funded institutions may decide on the setting up of their self-financing operations and the future development of these establishments on their own without the need to seek the approval of EDB. That said, institutions should ensure that the self-financing activities do not detract from their core work and have distinct separation of resources from the publicly-funded programmes. As for matters involving staff and students, institutions should also ensure adequate consultation and communication, and that reasonable arrangements are put in place.

     On the future development of the Community College of City University (CCCU), EDB has made it clear to CityU that any arrangements have to take into account the interests of the existing staff and students, and to ensure that the quality and recognition of programmes will not be adversely affected. Upon EDB's further enquiry, CityU confirmed earlier that the students and staff of CCCU had been informed that the future development of CCCU would not affect them adversely. In this connection, CityU has undertaken to:

(a) ensure that for current students of CCCU, there will be no changes to their programmes, awards of qualification and relevant tuition fees; and

(b) require its future partner to provide assurance on the continued validity of CCCU staff's current terms of employment.

     EDB will continue to keep the future development of CCCU in view.

(4) According to the information provided by institutions operating self-financing post-secondary programmes (including the self-financing operations of the UGC-funded institutions), when setting the tuition fee levels for self-financing programmes, most institutions plan on the basis of a balanced budget and adopt a prudent approach, taking into account a basket of factors including planned enrolment, similar programmes offered in the market, and affordability of the target group. In the case of programmes with longer duration such as sub-degree and undergraduate programmes, institutions are obliged to take a longer-term view of the financial viability, sustainability of the programmes and strategic development of the institution. To cater for possible year-on-year volatility and uncertainties, an adequate level of reserve is critical to serve as a buffer to sustain the healthy operation of the programmes. These institutions are non-profit-making. Any surplus in a year will be kept in their reserve and ploughed back in support of teaching and learning activities, curriculum development, scholarships for students, research activities, and the maintenance, replacement and improvement of teaching and learning facilities for the benefits of students.

     While upholding the spirit of institutional autonomy, UGC always expects institutions to remain committed to transparency and accountability in their operations to ensure that funding is put to appropriate uses that serve the best interests of the community and students. UGC-funded institutions are required to keep separate financial accounts for the publicly-funded and self-financing operations in order to ensure that there is no cross-subsidisation of UGC resources to self-financing activities. Institutions should also ensure that self-financing activities do not detract from the core work of the institutions, have distinct separation of resources from the publicly-funded programmes and are financially viable and sustainable.

     The Financial Affairs Working Group established under UGC had earlier conducted a review of institutions' financial governance to look into the mechanism and practice concerning the use of reserve derived from self-financing programmes/activities. On the whole, the Working Group did not find any institutions putting their surpluses to any other uses beyond those specified in their missions.

Ends/Wednesday, December 10, 2014
Issued at HKT 14:08


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