|Article on Ming Pao 從精英制到普及化的大學教育_(24th November 2020)
From Elite to Universal University Education
Lin Chun Pong (Mr.)
In the recent decades, there is a rapid development in tertiary education no matter whether it is in China, the United States or the United Kingdom. The governments of different countries have been actively carrying out reforms in tertiary education to match with the needs of the countries’ development, and meet the aspiration of the public on tertiary education. According to the statistical reports of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) in 2015-2019, 44.9% of the people in the age group of 25 to 34 years old of 43 different countries (not including China) had received tertiary education. Take China as an example. In its economic modernisation since the end of 1990, there is an increase in the places for tertiary education and universities. In 2013, its gross enrolment ratio of tertiary education had reached 34.5% (Ministry of Education of the People’s Republic of China), and even 51.6% in 2019, which was higher than the target of 40 %. Taking the varying paces of development in different provinces in consideration, the university admission rate in most major cities and provinces must be higher than the gross enrolment ratio. In view of these, how is the pace of the universal tertiary education in Hong Kong? Are there currently enough UGC-funded university places to meet the future development, the economic growth and the needs of education development?
While acknowledging the trend of development early, we are far lagging behind after 20 years
Since mid-1980’s, there has been an increase in the number of university places in Hong Kong to match with the world trend. Subsequently, the number of people of the appropriate age being admitted to universities has been raised from 5% to 18%. Yet, at the beginning of 2000, the University Grants Committee (UGC) pointed out that only around one fifth of the people aged 15 and above had attained tertiary qualification, which did not go in line with the aim of the education reform to construct a knowledge-based economy. Thus, in the Chief Executive’s Policy Address 2000, the promotion of universal tertiary education was put up. The objective was to provide 60% of our senior secondary school leavers with tertiary education opportunities within 10 years. The HKSAR Government was far-sighted at that time to draw up the blueprint for education development through the universal tertiary education for economic development and changes.
In response to the Government’s recommendation on providing Associate Degree programmes for people aged 17 to 20, many UGC-funded universities have started offering those programmes since 2001. This has brought an increase in the ratio of senior secondary school leavers receiving tertiary education from 33% in 2000 to 66% in 2005. However, this increase in ratio is mainly attributed to the Self-financing programmes (including Top-Up Degree, Associate Degree, Higher Diploma and Certificate programmes). Among all, the percentage of students studying in the UGC-funded programmes is still very small. At present, there are 15,000 first-year first-degree places through the eight universities funded by the UGC. Compared with 14,500 places provided 25 years ago, there was only an increase of 500 places. The increase of 3.4% in the ratio of UGC-funded degree programmes in 25 years is indeed very small. Even with the inclusion of around 5,000 senior year undergraduate intake places for graduates of sub-degree programmes and students with other relevant qualifications provided by the UGC-funded universities, only 35% of students of appropriate age can receive tertiary education; which is much lower than 50% in Singapore, and far lower than the figures in the major cities in China, such as 76% in Beijing and 73% in Shanghai.
The above data show that though Hong Kong launched the promotion of universal tertiary education to support the development of knowledge-based economy 20 years ago, the number of places offered by the UGC-funded universities remains nearly the same. We do not just lag behind our main competitors in the world, but also far behind the major cities in the Mainland which have been undergoing rapid economic growth in these 30 years.
Greater flexibility in university admission to foster whole-person and diverse development
In the “Final Report” issued by the Task Force on Review of School Curriculum on 22nd September 2020, universities are strongly recommended to exercise greater flexibility in student admissions on a case by case basis. Through the new “School Nominations Direct Admission Scheme (SNDAS)”, university education opportunities can be provided for talented students who are assessed as suitable for their own preferred programmes based on broad parameters other than HKDSE Examination results. It is expected that a maximum of about 1000 students would be nominated under the Scheme every year. While it is true that this new Scheme is the first step to nurture students of different talents, we need to know that adopting “3322” as the “General Entrance Requirements” (GER) for the first-year first-degree (FYFD) programmes has deprived quite a number of students who are talented in Mathematics and Science but cannot attain Level 3 in languages the opportunity to be admitted to universities. This also denies students who possess other different talents. In 3.8.2 of the “Final Report”, the Task Force stated that “given that the number of FYFD places provided by the eight University Grants Committee (UGC)-funded universities remains at 15 000 every year and the size of prevailing student population, in most cases students admitted to local universities would have acquired a minimum level of 3322, together with good results in the elective subjects. Thus, a relaxation in the GER would not increase the chance of admission at the system level.” This implies that if there is no increase in the number of university places, not all students who meet the GER can be admitted to universities. Merely changing the GER or having different nomination schemes cannot help to increase students’ opportunities of being admitted to universities. This in fact will undermine the effectiveness of the multiple considerations and flexibility regarding university admission. Furthermore. since the implementation of the Hong Kong Diploma of Secondary Education (HKDSE) in 2012, there are 30% of male students and 45% of female students meeting GER every year. This imbalance has lasted for many years. Is this what the society would like to embrace? In the long run, will this affect Hong Kong’s development of knowledge-based economy and family structure? To avoid losing young talents, besides enhancing the flexibility of university admission, it is important to increase appropriately the number of FYFD places provided by the eight University Grants Committee (UGC)-funded universities. This can release the stress of secondary school students in academic studies, and give more space to schools to re-vitalise secondary school education. This can then really achieve the objectives of promoting whole-person development and broadening student learning experience as stated in the “Final Report” of the Task Force.
Ensuring equity in tertiary education to bring hope to students
The conclusion and recommendations in the research titled “Analysing Hong Kong Adolescents’ Expectation for Pursuing Higher Education from PISA” (Esther Sui-chu HO, Raymond Sin-kwok WONG, Chrysa Pui-chi KEUNG and Kwok-wing SUM, 2017) should be considered by the Government. The research pointed out that from 2009 to 2015, there is an increase in the Hong Kong secondary school students’ expectation on pursuing higher education from 47.2% to 55.2%. However, only 38% of the secondary school students can be directly admitted to the FYFD places provided by the University Grants Committee (UGC)-funded universities. This percentage is far below that of students’ expectation. Besides, the research shows that the socio-economic background of students’ families has an impact on students’ expectation on pursuing tertiary education. Students who have weak socio-economic background do not have high expectation on being admitted to universities immediately upon graduation as they may be aware that university places are seriously insufficient or they may not be able to afford the self-financing Degree or Associate Degree programmes. Thus, most of them choose to work in society upon graduation from secondary schools. When the variable of ‘high ability’ is factored in, among the 44.2% and 59.8% students ‘with high ability’ in 2009 and 2012 respectively, only 64.4% (2009) expected to pursue university education. This is far below those in Korea (94%) and Singapore (88%). All along, the Hong Kong society generally believes that education is the cornerstone for social mobility. Increasing the UGC-funded university places not only brings hope to students of different socio-economic background, but also makes them stay in Hong Kong and take Hong Kong as their home. This will enhance the quality of Hong Kong people in general and the competitiveness of our society.
The Hong Kong Association of the Heads of Secondary Schools (HKAHSS) is much concerned about the learning opportunity of Hong Kong students in tertiary education. In our survey conducted in 2018, among the responses of 125 secondary school principals, 85% of them opined that the Government should increase the FYFD places provided by the UGC-funded universities to satisfy students’ demand for university places. 92% felt that the Education Bureau (EDB) should review the current GER of “3322” for 4-year Bachelor’s Degree Programmes. In 2019, our Association had conducted another survey in collaboration with the Chinese University of Hong Kong titled “Survey on the Curriculum Reform – From the Present to the Future”. Among the responses of 162 secondary school principals, more principals opined that universities should take the best six subjects attaining a total of 14 marks in the HKDSE as the GER. We therefore have to ask if the strict adherence to “3322” for the core subjects as the GER for university since the first HKDSE Examination in 2012 has been able to cater for students’ multiple talents. Does it even cast away talents in Mathematics, Science and Technology? Why should so many students who can meet the GER every year have to first study Associate Degree programmes before they can be admitted to Bachelor’s Degree programmes, which actually kills their will? When there is no obvious increase in the number of UGC-funded university places, when there is no change in the GER for university admission, and when there is no change in the alignments of faculties or departments in universities, students’ expectation of their future will not be raised. When the ratio of students pursuing Bachelor’s Degree programmes in Hong Kong is far below that of our competitors in the world, when Hong Kong students’ expectation of pursuing university education is confined by the number of university places and their socio-economic background, what happens eventually is the wasting of talents in Hong Kong or affecting students’ sense of belonging to the Hong Kong society. To match with the social, economic and educational development of the future society, we hope that the Government can review the present system of UGC-funded university places, provide universal university education, enhance the quality of Hong Kong people in general, and give hope to teenagers.
|明報 (24-11-2020) 從精英制到普及化的大學教育||English version|
近數十年，不論中國、美國或英國等地，高等教育都在迅速擴展。各地政府積極推動高等教育改革，以配合國家發展需要，並滿足社會大眾對高等教育的需求。根據經濟合作及發展組織（OECD）2015至2019年統計，43個不同國家（不包括中國）的25至34歲人口中，曾接受高等教育的平均人口百分比達44.9%。又以中國為例，自1990年代末在經濟現代化的帶動下，高等教育開始擴大招生並進入學位大眾化階段，至2013年，高等教育毛入學率（gross enrollment ratio）已達到34.5%（中華人民共和國教育部，2015），至2019年已超過原定40%的目標，達51.6%。若將中國各鎮各地不平均的發展計算在內，可以推算出大部分重點省市的大學入學率必然遠高於毛入學率。反觀，香港的高等教育普及化速度又如何？現時資助學士學位又是否能配合未來社會、經濟及教育發展的需要？