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Thursday, November 24, 2016, 00:14

Tuition fees for higher education should be reviewed: Report

By Willa Wu

HONG KONG - The Audit Commission on Wednesday urged the city’s education officials to complete a review of tuition fees at subsidized higher education institutions.

This is because a further delay means the government will draw more money from the public coffers to pay extra expenses.

The tuition fee for undergraduate or higher degree programs funded by the University Grants Committee (UGC) is HK$42,100 per student per year. It hasn’t changed or been reviewed since it was set in 1997.

The government announced in 1991 that subsidized tertiary institutions should aim at recovering 18 percent of costs from tuition from the 1997-98 academic year onwards.

The HK$42,100 tuition fee managed to achieve the target rate then. However, with costs continuing to rise due to inflation over the past two decades,the HK$42,100 tuition fee can recover less and less costs.

The latest audit report on Wednesday showed that the unchanged tuition fee has resulted in the cost recovery rate dropping to 16.9 percent in 2014-15 and further down to 15.8 percent in 2015-16. The government has been paying, and will still pay, the extra expenses before a tuition increase is effectuated.

A review initiated by the Education Bureau is under way, but a completion date has not been set. With the ongoing review, the bureau informed the Legislative Council that the tuition fee will stay at the current level from 2016 to 2019. But the audit learned that the 18 percent target cost recovery rate will expire as the Chief Executive in Council decided in October 2011 the target rate should be revisited if there is a review.

The commission suggested the Education Bureau work with the UGC for an appropriate and timely policy on tuition fee adjustment.

The report also found that the annual meeting expenses of the UGC and its two non-statutory advisory bodies, the Research Grants Council and the Quality Assurance Council, almost quadrupled in the past 10 years - from HK$3.9 million in 2005-06 to HK$16.2 million in 2015-16.

Two factors weighed heavily on the cost increase. Namely, the three organizations held more meetings. They invited more non-local members to come - paying for their travel expenses.

But no clear evidence was found to justify why members stayed in expensive hotels, instead of more frugal accommodations, the audit report noted.

UGC-funded universities were also warned of an imbalance in recruitment of students from the Chinese mainland, compared with the number of international students.

According to the report, 15,730 non-local students enrolled in UGC-funded programs in the 2015-16 academic year, accounting for 16 percent of total students. Mainland students accounted for 76 percent of non-local students.

The report suggested UGC-funded universities try to attract more non-local students from places other than the mainland to achieve greater diversity “involving more nationalities and cultural backgrounds” needed for “true internationalization of universities” as envisioned by UGC’s 2010 higher education review report.

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