Newspaper article on Direct Subsidy Scheme (DSS)
Released on MingPao (明報) on 3 July 2013
Original text in Chinese
Written by Miss Lee suet Ying, the Chairman of the AHSS
Introduced in September 1991, the Direct Subsidy Scheme (DSS) was set up in response to the recommendations of the Education Commission in its Report No. 3 and approved by the Executive Council. Under the DSS, schools are allowed to have greater flexibility in various areas including resources deployment, curriculum design and student admission, etc. Besides government subsidies, DSS schools may collect school fees for the provision of additional support services and school facilities (Official information from the Education Bureau, Hong Kong Government)
Summary in English
The article was written in response to the recent social controversies related to the application to transfer into the DSS by some well-established aided schools. Those in favour of the scheme would like to hinge on the advantage of greater autonomy and flexibility, especially in deciding the medium of instruction, ample financial resources (due to fee charging on top of government subsidy) and the edge over student admission.
Those who hold the opposite view are worried about the unfairness and problems arising from the DSS. The school fees charged results in the fact that students being admitted into DSS schools mainly come from families with higher socio-economic status. If fee-charging equates quality education, this will greatly undermine the upward social mobility through education for students from the grassroots. Despite the offer of scholarships by DSS schools for needy students, there are still very practical issues to consider. At the same time and most unfortunately, scholarships are usually offered as incentives to attract outstanding students, the practice of which has greatly deviated from its original purpose.
The financial incentives and the flexibility to admit students with an earlier timeline than their aided counterparts have given the DSS schools an edge which is rather unfair when they also operate on public funding. In fact, the DSS school are given very similar subsidy amount per student as their counterparts in the aided sector (though the former is calculated on a per head basis while the latter on a class basis).
To address these issues, the government is urged to review the DSS policy and address the following areas of concern:
- As the government is providing free education for all, why should the quality of Hong Kong education be expected to hinge on the DSS or other private system through charging extra from parents?
- It is rather absurd that aided schools are not allowed the flexibilities and autonomy enjoyed by the DSS schools unless they opt for the change. If these flexibility and autonomy are good for schools, they should apply to all schools in Hong Kong to ensure education quality.
- The autonomy and flexibility enjoyed by DSS schools have given them great advantage over other schools and even affected the operation and development of the latter. To be an accountable and responsible government, it should seriously review its education policy and planning.
- According to government statistics, DSS schools constituted about 13% of all schools in Hong Kong and the percentage share is not small. The government need to have a comprehensive planning over the distribution of school types and how they can serve the needs of different students and complement one another.
- Recent statistics showed that the university admission rate of students above the poverty line is about 3.7 times higher than their counterparts who are below that line. Compared to past figures, the widening of the gap between the rich and poor is evident. The increasing polarization also indicates the reduction in upward social mobility through education. This is undesirable to society in the long-run.
All along, Hong Kong has taken pride in its public education system through which many can enjoy equal opportunities and move upward socially. The policy of DSS schools and alternative school types should be carefully reviewed and evaluated. Further development of such policy should not go on unchecked against the big picture of education provision in Hong Kong.