SCMP Tuesday, August 8, 2000

Course costs 'too expensive'

GARY CHEUNG


A government-subsidised programme to train Form Five school-leavers in languages and computer skills has been criticised as too expensive for students.

The programme, which offers more than 8,700 places starting next month, charges $25,000 to $30,000 for full-time students. Classes include English, Putonghua, practical mathematics and information technology.

These courses will take about a year of full-time study. A part-time student needs two academic years to finish.

The Government will spend $200 million to finance the pilot scheme, called Project Springboard, aimed mostly at Form Five leavers who receive disappointing results in the Hong Kong Certificate of Education Examination (HKCEE), to be released tomorrow. Some 3,400 full-time and 5,340 part-time students will be admitted next month. Students over 21 can also apply.

The Government will reimburse 30 per cent of tuition fees to students who attend at least 80 per cent of classes and pass standard assessments.

But former legislator and Professional Teachers' Union president Cheung Man-kwong said tuition fees were too expensive and it was unfair to charge the exam losers so much money.

"Sixth formers only have to pay 18 per cent of the unit cost while the students participating in the programme have to find 70 per cent of the total cost. It is ironic especially when we recall the slogan of 'lifelong learning' suggested by the Government," he said.

"Most Form Five leavers have no means of seeking a livelihood and cannot afford tuition fees of nearly $30,000. The annual tuition fee for undergraduate programmes is $42,100."

Deputy Secretary for Education and Manpower Philip Chok Kin-fun said it was a matter of judgment whether the tuition fee was too expensive. "Look at Form Five courses provided by private secondary schools - annual tuition amounts to between $8,500 and $35,000," he said.

Mr Chok said the Government was considering whether it would recognise qualifications by the programme in recruitment for select civil service posts.

"I am confident that it will be done in the near future and we will persuade private-sector employers to follow suit," he said.

The programme gives a qualification comparable to five subject passes at HKCEE level.

A promotion for the courses will be held from Friday to Sunday at the Hong Kong Productivity Council in Kowloon Tong.