SCMP Thursday, June 15, 2000

Cost-linked plan for university tuition rejected


Officials have dropped a proposal to link tuition fees to teaching costs at universities. The plan was rejected in the Executive Council on Tuesday.

Figures showed that the most expensive academic discipline was dentistry, costing the Government $614,000 per student per year, followed by medicine at $566,000 and biology at $314,000.

The least expensive ones were accounting and law, according to the University Grants Committee, which sets institutional funding.

Education and Manpower Bureau chiefs admitted the system would drive away talent if people had to pay more to study certain disciplines.

"We are mindful of possible implications of the proposed differential fee system on students' choice of laboratory-based disciplines, which are at present not very popular among our best students," out-going secretary for the bureau Joseph Wong Wing-ping said.

Principal Assistant Secretary for Education and Manpower Michelle Li Mei-sheung said that with the emergence of double majors in universities, it would become difficult to categorise programmes.

A statement issued by the bureau said it was "not conducive to developing Hong Kong into a high value-added and technology-driven economy".

A plan to allow increasing numbers of students to switch between universities mid-course would also make it difficult to decide fees. The bureau said it was inappropriate to introduce the change while the education reforms were being worked out.

Henry Wai Wing-kun, deputy registrar of the University of Hong Kong, said: "We never expected the system could be implemented since the logic itself is faulty. It's a good thing that the Government is not pushing ahead with it."

Polytechnic University president Professor Poon Chung-kwong welcomed the decision not to pursue the fees system. "Quite a lot of students are not interested in choosing science disciplines. The situation will get worse if such a system is introduced. It is not a healthy phenomenon for our society."

It is understood that most of the universities were opposed to the system except Lingnan University, a liberal arts institute. Lingnan's president, Edward Chen Kwan-yiu, could not be reached for comment yesterday.

Cheung Man-kwong, legislator for the education constituency, said: "Hong Kong needs graduates with different talents. The differentiate fees system will limit students from less affluent families from choosing their majors and limit certain faculties from choosing suitable students.

"It's wise of the Government to dispose of the proposal early on since there are already so many 'time-bombs' in education with the benchmark test and the medium of instruction."

At present students at all seven publicly funded universities pay a standard tuition fee of $42,000 a year, accounting for 18 per cent of total expenditure. The Government pays the rest.

Tuition fees, which have been frozen since the 1998-99 academic year, will remain unchanged for the third consecutive year in light of the economic situation.

In the current academic year, the Government provided a total of about $842.6 million in grants and $664.2 million in loans to 30,380 students, or 47 per cent of the student population.