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LCQ6: Regulation of non-local higher and professional education courses

     Following is a question by the Hon Ip Kin-yuen and a reply by the Secretary for Education, Mr Eddie Ng Hak-kim, in the Legislative Council today (March 16):


     The Non-local Higher and Professional Education (Regulation) Ordinance (the Ordinance) aims to prevent the offering of non-local higher and professional education courses (NLCs) which do not meet the specified standards in Hong Kong, in order to protect the interests and benefits of consumers, and to demonstrate that Hong Kong values authentic, reliable and internationally recognised academic and professional standards. However, in recent months, some media have uncovered one after another that the Lifelong College allegedly collaborated with local and non-local institutions to assist students in obtaining "fast-track degrees" relevant to NLCs through different shortcuts and, among those students, quite a number of them came from the political and business sectors, or worked in academic, professional and public organisations as well as government departments. Regarding the regulation of NLCs, will the Government inform this Council:

(1) how the authorities ensure that all NLCs (including those exempted from registration under the Ordinance) are up to the academic and professional standards specified in the Ordinance; how the authorities check the annual returns provided by NLC operators, including whether they have verified the truthfulness of the admission figures and durations of study, and whether the institutions awarding the relevant qualifications are the non-local institutions specified in the registration certificates of the courses; of the number of times for which the authorities checked the annual returns in the past five years, and whether any case of non-compliance was found; if non-compliant cases were found, of the number of such cases;

(2) whether the authorities have put in place a mechanism to verify the truthfulness of the non-local qualifications furnished by civil servants and to determine if such qualifications are equivalent to the standards of the relevant local qualifications or recognised professional qualifications; if so, of the details of the mechanism; if not, the reasons for that; of the number of cases handled by the authorities in the past five years involving civil servants who had allegedly furnished fake academic documents or used fake documents in obtaining academic qualifications and, among such cases, the number of those which involved obtaining money fraudulently by claiming reimbursement of course fees from the Government, the total amount of money involved, the government departments and ranks to which the civil servants concerned belong, as well as the punishments imposed on them; and

(3) whether local intermediaries' recruiting students, charging commission and issuing graduation certificates for NLCs are subject to regulation of existing legislation; if so, of the contents of the legislation; if not, the reasons for that; among the NLCs offered in Hong Kong (including those exempted from registration under the Ordinance) in the past five years, of the number of those for which graduation certificates were issued by local intermediaries?



     Under the Non-local Higher and Professional Education (Regulation) Ordinance (the Ordinance), all courses conducted in Hong Kong leading to the award of non-local higher academic qualifications or non-local professional qualifications (non-local courses) must be registered properly or exempted from registration. The Non-local Courses Registry (the Registry) under the Education Bureau (EDB) processes such applications according to the criteria stipulated in the Ordinance. In the case of courses leading to the award of non-local higher academic qualifications, the course operator should demonstrate that effective measures are already in place to ensure that the standard of the course offered in Hong Kong is maintained at a level comparable to a course leading to the same qualification conducted by the awarding institution in its home country. This comparability in standard must be recognised by the awarding institution, the academic community and the relevant accreditation authority (if any) of the home country. In addition, under the Non-local Higher and Professional Education (Regulation) Rules, the enrolment advertisements of a registered or exempted course must contain a statement to remind the public that it is a matter of discretion for individual employers to recognise any qualification to which the course may lead.

     Regarding recent media reports that a non-local course operator has fast-tracked the award of degrees to students by illegal means, the EDB is now investigating the case. Any suspected non-compliant cases, if found, will be handled in accordance with the established procedures. If necessary, such cases will be referred to the law enforcement agencies for follow-up action. The EDB is very concerned about the quality of non-local courses and the way of running the courses by operators. A review of the existing monitoring measures is being conducted with a view to enhancing the whole monitoring system and thus providing better protection for students.

     My reply to the Hon Ip's questions is as follows:

(1) Through the registration system as stipulated in the Ordinance as well as regular monitoring, the Registry ensures the compliance of all non-local courses with the requirements on academic and professional standards set out in the Ordinance. In processing registration applications, the Registry will examine in detail the application form and relevant materials submitted by the operator, such as the latest programme accreditation documents, curriculum, cooperation agreement between the operator and the institution, quality assurance processes, and arrangements for payment and refund of the fee charged. The Registry or the Hong Kong Council for Accreditation of Academic and Vocational Qualifications (HKCAAVQ) can also request the operator to provide a sample of the certificate, if necessary, to ascertain that it is awarded by an overseas institution. As a pre-requisite for approving the registration, all courses are subject to assessment by the HKCAAVQ to make sure that they meet the registration criteria specified in the Ordinance. In this connection, the HKCAAVQ may contact the non-local institution direct to verify the information submitted by the local operator and ascertain that all the arrangements of the course offered locally is comparable to the one conducted overseas. In addition, the HKCAAVQ may request details about the qualifications of teachers, entry requirements, teaching hours, etc. from the operator. If necessary, the HKCAAVQ will contact the overseas accreditation authority to confirm whether the award is recognised in its country or not.

     Operators of registered non-local courses are required to include such information as student intake and duration of studies in their annual returns submitted to the Registry in accordance with the Ordinance. They are also required to provide documents to prove that the courses continuously meet the requirements of the Ordinance. Following an initial check by the Registry, the annual returns will be forwarded to the HKCAAVQ, which will assess whether the courses continuously meet the requirements of the Ordinance. The processes and procedures of assessment, though more or less the same as those for new applications, include due consideration of quality assurance activities conducted during the reporting period, such as curriculum review, course inspection in Hong Kong conducted by staff from the overseas institution, etc.

     As at February 29, 2016, a total of 473 non-local courses are registered under the Ordinance. Operators of these courses are required to submit annual returns to the Registry for examination in accordance with the above-mentioned mechanism. For the past five years, the Registry has not found any cases of contravention of the requirements of the Ordinance amongst the annual reports examined.

(2) As far as civil service appointments are concerned, according to the information provided by the Civil Service Bureau (CSB), academic qualification entry requirements of civil service posts are set with reference to qualifications obtainable under the local education system or from local institutions. If applicants holding degrees awarded by non-local institutions are considered for appointment to civil service posts at degree level, their qualifications will be subject to individual assessment to ascertain whether such qualifications in totality meet the academic qualification entry requirements of the posts being applied for. In the process, the CSB will consult the HKCAAVQ on individual cases where necessary. Recruiting bureaux/departments will offer appointment to applicants concerned subject to their passing the aforesaid individual assessment. In the past five years, i.e. from 2011 to 2015, none of the disciplinary cases handled by the Secretariat on Civil Service Discipline involved the use of fake academic qualifications, the use of fake documents for obtaining academic qualifications or improper claims of course subsidies.

(3) As stipulated in the Ordinance, a non-local course operator means the person, institution or body which (i) is in charge of the conducting of the course in Hong Kong; or (ii) enters into a contract with students under which the course is offered to them. Any intermediary which falls into either one of the above definitions of course operator as set out in the Ordinance is subject to the regulation of the Ordinance, including regulations concerning programme quality and arrangements for payment and refund of the fee charged.

     As regards the issuance of graduation certificates, as mentioned in Part (1) of the reply, the Registry or the HKCAAVQ may require the operator to provide a sample for verification. Over the past five years, the Registry has not found any graduation certificates of non-local courses not issued by the overseas institutions that provide the courses.

Ends/Wednesday, March 16, 2016
Issued at HKT 18:06


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