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LCQ8: Financial management and resource utilisation of the Public Opinion Programme at the University of Hong Kong

     Following is a question by the Hon Chan Kam-lam and a written reply by the Secretary for Education, Mr Eddie Ng Hak-kim, in the Legislative Council today (May 20):


     The Public Opinion Programme (POP) was set up under the Faculty of Social Sciences of the publicly-funded University of Hong Kong (HKU). POP, the office of which is located in the HKU campus, conducts academic surveys for its parent institution, undertakes public opinion polls commissioned by other organisations and provides relevant services. Regarding the financial management and resource utilisation of POP, will the Government inform this Council if it knows:

(1) whether the relevant authorities have audited the financial management and resource utilisation of POP;

     if they have, of the relevant details in the academic years from 2010-2011 to 2014-2015, including:

(i) the major sources of funding and a breakdown of the amounts (such as the recurrent and non-recurrent funding provided by the University Grants Committee (UGC), donations (specifying the conditions and uses of the donations) and service fees);

(ii) the major expenditure items and a breakdown of the amounts (such as expenditure on staff salaries, operational expenses of the office, fees payable to and sharing of profits with HKU);

(iii) the number of staff members and a breakdown by the funding source for the salaries of the relevant posts (i.e. recurrent funding from UGC, funding under commissioned projects, sponsorships from outside organisations and other income) and by staff type (such as researchers and administrators); and

(iv) the details of the research projects conducted, including the detailed contents, the collaborating organisations and the relevant expenditures of the research projects funded by UGC and those conducted for HKU and outside organisations;

     if they have not, whether the relevant authorities will conduct a comprehensive audit, and request POP to enhance the transparency of its cooperation with outside organisations, so as to ensure no misuse of public funds; and

(2) as it has been reported that during the period between May 2013 and February last year, an Associate Professor at the Faculty of Law of HKU passed on "secret donations" totalling $1.3 million respectively to the Faculty of Law, the Faculty of Arts and POP of HKU, among which $800,000 were given to POP, whether the relevant authorities (i) have specific requirements for the acceptance of donations by POP, including penalties for contraventions, and (ii) will conduct a comprehensive investigation into the acceptance of the aforesaid donations by POP?



     All institutions funded by the University Grants Committee (UGC) are autonomous with their own Ordinances and governing councils. The UGC Notes on Procedures clearly state that institutions enjoy autonomy in the development of curricula and academic standards, selection of staff and students, initiation and acceptance of researches, and internal allocation of resources, etc. However, in view of the significant funding the institutions receive in the form of Government subvention and private contributions, as well as the importance of higher education to the development of society, it is incumbent upon the Government and the community at large to have a legitimate interest in the operation of the institutions. Therefore, while the Government and the UGC attach great importance to safeguarding academic freedom and institutional autonomy, institutions are expected to remain committed to transparency, accountability and good financial governance in their operation to ensure that funding, including donations, is put to the appropriate use that serves the best interests of the community and students.

(1) UGC-funded institutions enjoy institutional autonomy in conducting self-financing activities. Nevertheless, institutions should ensure that their self-financing operations will not affect their core work and that there is a distinct separation of resources between self-financing operations and publicly-funded activities. The UGC Notes on Procedures provide that UGC resources should not be used to subsidise self-financing operations. To avoid cross-subsidisation of non-fundable activities, institutions should charge self-financing activities of the relevant overheads.

     According to the information provided to the UGC Secretariat by The University of Hong Kong (HKU), its Public Opinion Programme (POP) is a self-financing activity which is operated in accordance with the university's internal guidelines and procedures on self-financing activities, including relevant requirements on self-financing activities under the Notes on Procedures. As required by the Notes on Procedures, HKU, in addition to the annual audits of the financial statements compiled, has commissioned independent external auditors to provide separate assurance. The independent auditors are not aware that HKU has used UGC funding for purposes other than those prescribed by the UGC or acted contrary to the guidelines or other regulations issued to institutions by the UGC. The UGC is satisfied with the audit results of the independent auditors.

     According to HKU, revenue from commissioned projects is the main source of income for the operation of POP while the major expenditure items include staff cost, general operating costs and overheads payable to HKU in accordance with relevant guidelines. Similar to other self-financing activities, HKU does not provide breakdown information about the income and expenditure of POP to the Government and the UGC.

     As regards staffing, at present, 16 full-time staff members and a team of part-time telephone interviewers are appointed under POP. All the full-time staff members are not funded by the UGC. The titles and respective numbers of post-holders are set out below:

Post title                  Number of post-holder
----------                  ----------------------
Director                              1
Assistant Director                    1
Research Manager                      2
Senior Research Executive             1
Research Executive                    2
Research Project Assistant            1
Analyst Programmer                    1
Senior Data Analyst                   1
Statistical Assistant                 1
IT Manager                            1
Secretary                             1
Supervisor                            2
Clerical Assistant                    1

     The website of POP also provides details on its special features and research reports. Please refer to for details.

(2) UGC-funded institutions are autonomous in the management of their finances, including the acceptance and use of donations. In general, neither the Government nor the UGC has stipulated specific rules on the handling of donations. However, as a good management practice and to protect their reputation and academic freedom, 11 higher education institutions, including the UGC-funded institutions, set up a working group with the Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) in 2011, which studied various areas including the administration of donations in depth, and compiled a guide on relevant best practices. All institutions have confirmed that their internal guidelines and procedures for handling donations are in line with this guide. Salient points are summarised below:

Principles for handling donations

(i) donations should contribute to the enhancement of teaching, research and overall development of the institutions and not for personal benefits of individuals;

(ii) no donation should be attached with conditions that would adversely affect an institution's ability to carry out its functions fairly and impartially; and

(iii) donations from sources known to an institution as illegal or unethical should not be accepted.

Acceptance of donations

     The Council of each institution is the highest authority in deciding the acceptance of donations. Some Councils have set up committees, which include independent members, for the purpose of vetting, monitoring or guiding matters relating to donations. In general, the Councils can delegate the approving authority of accepting donations to different levels of executives according to the size of a donation. But a donation involving a huge amount of money or a significant policy decision would require approval of the Councils and/or their relevant committees. In deciding whether to accept a donation, the institutions follow the above-mentioned principles and their internal guidelines. As a general rule, institutions do not accept donations from unknown sources or unidentified donors, and will collect relevant information about the background of the donors as far as practicable. That said, once the identity of the donors is ascertained, institutions will respect their privacy and wishes.

Management and use of donations

     Each institution has a dedicated department for central co-ordination and administration of various donation-related matters. While individual staff, departments or faculties may also solicit and accept donations within their respective ambit of delegated authority, the dedicated department must be kept informed. All donations are properly documented and the overall situation of donating is reported regularly to the respective Councils. The donations are used in accordance with the relevant legislation, internal guidelines and the donors' wishes. Like other revenue and expenditure items, the use and record of the donations are subject to audit by independent auditors, and the total amount of donations received and expended is published in the institution's annual financial report, which is released for public scrutiny.

     On the basis of the guide on relevant best practices compiled by institutions and ICAC, institutions handle and examine each donation case by themselves according to their internal guidelines and are accountable for their decisions.

     In the past six months, there were public queries about the sources and uses of certain donations received by HKU. The Government has also received a number of complaints directed to HKU on this subject. Both the UGC and the Government expect that the institution will take these complaints seriously, and handle them in a fair and just manner in accordance with the established principles and mechanism.  In this regard, the Education Bureau has written repeatedly to the HKU Council and management since November 2014 to request the institution to conduct a thorough review of information in connection with the handling of these donations and consider releasing further information on the sources of donations to address public concerns. The Government has referred all the complaints received to HKU for its follow-up action and response. We understand that the Audit Committee under the HKU Council has completed a review and recently submitted a report to the Council, which will soon discuss the matter. The Government will continue to pay close attention to the development of the matter.

Ends/Wednesday, May 20, 2015
Issued at HKT 12:57


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