SCMP Saturday, September 22, 2001

HKIEd forces 35 into retirement


Classes at the Hong Kong Institute of Education were disrupted this week after about one in 10 of the teaching staff received notices of mandatory early retirement and were told they could stop work.
The move was a blow to staff morale and had brought chaos to students' teacher-training courses mid-term, said Kenneth Volk, the chairman of HKIEd's Association of Lecturers.
About 35 staff - who did not know in advance that they had been chosen - have received notices informing them of the institution's resolution. They have been given two weeks to appeal and have been freed from their teaching duties during this period.
The manner in which staff were asked to go was "unprofessional" and "insulting", Dr Volk said. "There have never been any staff appraisals, and suddenly these people are told they are surplus. Some might have been targeted for political or personal reasons."
HKIEd deputy director Paul Morris said: "It is not a pleasant exercise but one that is unfortunately necessary if the institute is to upgrade and provide schools with the teachers they require."
All of those affected had transferred from the four former teacher-training colleges that merged in 1994 to form the HKIEd. Their years of service ranged from seven to more than 20. Their average age was about 50.
Professor Morris said that in the wake of education reforms, higher standards were expected of lecturers and the students they trained. The former colleges in which the lecturers were originally hired to teach offered sub-degree programmes only, with a significant proportion of their students being Form Five leavers.
"We are moving rapidly into a situation where programmes are at a degree level, with the majority of students coming from Form Seven. We are trying to ensure that our staff have the skills, expertise and qualities to teach at that level," he said. It was to the credit of the majority that they had adapted, he added.
Norman Ngai Wai-yiu, another HKIEd deputy director, sits on the institutional review committee comprising the directorate and deans of schools which drew up the list of names. He said: "We want to give the staff time to think over what they plan to do, and prepare a written appeal. But some have decided to continue teaching during this period."
The forced dismissals were linked to the institute's move towards achieving university status, he said. Those singled out were chosen mainly because they lacked advanced degrees or their expertise did not fit the institute's future requirements. "Society is changing and in education rapid changes are under way too. In the past we have offered a generous package for staff to upgrade their qualifications. We also have to make sure they are fit to teach at the institute," Mr Ngai said.
However, one of the affected teachers, who is close to finishing his PhD, said he had been led to believe furthering his studies would secure his job. "I have done so much to try to get a PhD," he said. "An academic institution should act differently from the corporate world in laying off staff. It made no mention of any staff surplus when it was drawing up its triennial plan."
Dr Volk said there were no stipulations in the lecturers' employment contracts that they were expected to further their education. "The institute has a moral obligation to dismiss contract staff first if, as they said, there is a surplus of staff."
No final date has been set for when those appealing would have to leave if they lose, but the preference of those affected by the Management Initiated Retirement Scheme would be taken into account, said Mr Ngai.
"It could be by December or the end of next June. We have to put students' interests first." He added that there were enough temporary lecturers to stand in.
He said the institute had held talks with the Government and the lecturers would get the same retirement packages as those given to civil servants. "The reason it has taken us so long to implement the plan is because we had to ensure that they have reasonable retirement benefits," he said.
In addition to a lump sum, the lecturers will be eligible for a life-long monthly pension payout.
The lecturers' union, unhappy with the dismissals, held an emergency meeting on Thursday and is consulting its lawyers on whether to take action.