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Home > UGC's Report: Higher Education in Hong Kong (March 2002) - OUHK's Response
UGC's Report: Higher Education in Hong Kong (March 2002) - OUHK's Response

1. Preamble

The OUHK is pleased to contribute to the debate on the future of higher education in Hong Kong, which has been engendered by the publication of the UGC Report "Higher Education in Hong Kong".  Much of the report deals with issues such as the UGC funding formula, which the University will refrain from commenting upon.  Instead we will concentrate upon those aspects of the report which we feel qualified to express an informed opinion.

2. Higher Education in Hong Kong

The Open University of Hong Kong (OUHK) was, in the main, disappointed with the report and to a certain extent with the quality of the debate which has ensued.  The report claims to be about higher education in Hong Kong but it is not.  It is principally about the UGC-funded institutions.  The other providers of higher education including the OUHK have been ignored.  Ironically, one of the few references to OUHK is misleading.  We are referred to as a "private" university.  We are not of course and our students and graduates have been greatly concerned about this designation.  OUHK is a "public" but self-financing institution under the aegis of the Education and Manpower Bureau. 

The Lord Sutherland writes with careful pen but it is clear that he does not know how to deal with the non-UGC providers of higher education.  At times we seem to be ignored, but in parts of  the report it seems that we are to be placed under the supervision of the Further Education Council.  But the report also states:

"A clear division of labour would be to allocate responsibilities for all work at degree level to the UGC (paragraph 2.18)."

This seems to us to be a very confusing state of affairs, which requires clarification.

Both the report itself and the debate, which it has created, are largely self-serving.  The interests of the UGC itself and the institutions which receive funds from it have been protected.  In the debate, those institutions who expect to benefit from the outcomes of the report welcome it and those which will lose out question it.

The representatives of the UGC universities have been vocal in the press, each taking a line dependent upon the likely financial consequence for their institutions.  We believe that this is not helpful.  OUHK does not intend to call for admission to the UGC funding club (even though we may have some powerful arguments in favour of such an outcome).  Instead, we shall try to be even-handed.  OUHK is content to pursue its object of being self-financing in terms of its direct costs.  That said, we wish to be seen as a public university on an equal footing with the other higher education institutions in terms of recognition, quality assurance and status.  The report fails to address our anomalous position in this regard.

3. The Organisation of Higher Education

If the recommendations in the report are implemented, there will be at least three bodies with some responsibility for the funding and management of what is currently understood as higher education.  There will be a UGC dealing with all work at degree level; an RGC dealing with research and a new FEC in charge of Associate Degrees.

It seems to us that this would lead to even further fragmentation and confusion.  Surely what is required is single overarching body.   Whether it is called a Higher Education Council or a University Grants Committee with extended responsibilities and representation does not matter.  What does matter is that there is a single entity with responsibility for the sector as a whole.  Certainly that body can be advised by sub-committees dealing with each of  the degree level function, the sub-degree level and research.

In terms of quality assurance also the report presents a situation which seems to be the worst of all possible worlds - a further division of a sector which is already littered with anomalies and divided responsibilities.  As we have seen, the report seems unable to find a place for the non-UGC providers nor does it deal fairly and squarely with the divided responsibilities for quality assurance between UGC itself and the HKCAA.  To make matters even worse, it is proposed that the new FEC will take up quality assurance responsibilities for the Associate Degrees.  This will mean three bodies will be taking care of quality assurance.  To fragment the sector further is exactly what should not happen.  Instead, one single body should be created to take responsibility for the whole of higher education in terms of quality assurance also, to provide clear policy advice to government and to rectify existing anomalies.

4. Funding of  Research

The report deals with the funding of research.  OUHK welcomes the fact that it is acknowledged that all higher education teachers must undertake at least some research and scholarship in their discipline.  We also welcome the recognition that, under current arrangements, staff at OUHK require access to research monies in order to allow them to be research active both in their discipline as well as in broader "mission related" research.

One of the most keenly debated recommendations in the report is the first one which deals with two tier funding of institutions.  The OUHK supports the idea of selective concentration provided it is applied to disciplines where research excellence exists irrespective of the institution.  This may lead to certain institutions receiving proportionately larger shares of research funds than others but it will be because of their research excellence in individual disciplines, not simply because they are favoured institutions.  No institution should be prevented from securing research funds for any area in which it can demonstrate excellence.

5. Credit Accumulation and Transfer (CATS)

The OUHK welcomes the recommendations on CATS provided that there is a mechanism whereby students may easily take credit from outside of the UGC economy.   The OUHK will be more than happy for full time students in the UGC universities to earn credit by studying some of our distance learning courses concurrently.  We have often suggested that this would be one method of removing a great deal of duplication of provision.  For example, full time students could study our courses in English language thereby avoiding the need for the very expensive remedial English centres in each of the UGC universities.  Currently, OUHK operates a mature system of credit transfer for both completed and partially completed qualifications.  We recognise that with the expansion of higher education places, particularly at Associate Degree level, there will be greater numbers of students looking to complete degree programmes.  The most desirable way for them to do so is on part-time basis while they are contributing to the Hong Kong economy.  The OUHK will continue to make places available to such students and will grant maximum recognition of their transferred credit.

6. Governance

We note the recommendations concerning Institutional Governance.  The OUHK conducted a review of its governance and management structures as recommended in the report, at the time we were accorded university title.  We are confident that our review achieved the outcomes suggested in the report.  We therefore see to no need for any further review for the time being at OUHK.

7. Concluding  Remarks

To recapitulate, OUHK welcomes the UGC's report Higher Education in Hong Kong" as a major contribution to the debate about the future of higher education or at least that part of the higher education system which comprises the eight institutions funded by UGC.  We believe however, that by its very nature, i.e. undertaken by the University Grants Committee, it is inevitably biased towards the status quo.  In particular, we are disappointed in the fact that the report does not deal with OUHK and our role in the sector.  Further, OUHK greatly regrets our labelling as a private university.  This has caused concern among our students and graduates.  Finally we believe that the further segregation of the higher education sector by the creation of yet another overseeing body, the FEC, is a mistake.  Instead efforts should be concentrated upon the creation of a single funding and policy-making body such as a Higher Education Council.

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Modified Date: Dec 03, 2013