Tam says he appreciates HKU’s support. The university assigned a staff member to follow his case till graduation and provides customised support based on his secondary school support plan. The university also encouraged him to apply for the Sir Edward Youde Memorial Fellowship/ Scholarship for Disabled Students, which he was awarded last academic year.
Tam suggests there should be more financial assistance to students with SEN because they have a heavy financial burden due to the costs of medical treatment and psychological therapy.
In fact, in 2013, the government injected HK$20 million into the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region Government Scholarship Fund and another HK$20 million into the Self-financing Post-secondary Education Fund (SPEF) to set up a scholarship to encourage tertiary SEN students to pursue excellence in academic and other areas. But only 16 per cent of students with SEN studying in UGC-funded programmes received the SAR scholarship fund and 22 per cent of SEN students received anything from the post-secondary education fund in the 2015/16 academic year.
Neither Kerry So nor Queenie Lau had heard of these government scholarships. This suggests tertiary institutions are not doing enough to actively promote the financial assistance available to students with SEN.
Unlike primary and secondary schools, the government has no defined policy on integrated education at tertiary level; ostensibly this is out of respect for the autonomy of the institutions. However, the Equal Opportunities Commission (EOC) points out the institutions may lack incentive and direction to support students with SEN without a clear policy.
As a lecturer at the Hong Kong Polytechnic University, legislator Fernando Cheung Chiu-hung says not many teachers are aware of the school policy on SEN. He thinks the Student Affairs Office and other departments need to have better communication in order to identify students with SEN more effectively and provide them with suitable services.
Cheung urges the Education Bureau and the UGC to set a baseline for post-secondary institutions to follow. He says the minimum requirements should include note-taking services, speech-to-text software for dyslexic students to take examinations, medical support, teaching and assessment method adjustments, and acceptance of sign language as basic language.
As for the UGC’s 2015 one-off grant of HK$20 million for SEN support, the council requires the eight recipient institutions to submit an interim and final report. But after the scheme ends at the end of this academic year, the universities will have to use their block grant to continue providing services. They will be able to determine the spending and have no need to report to the UGC.
Cheung says: “If resources have a specific purpose, the government should monitor the actual outcome.” He also thinks the government should set clear guidelines on the distribution of funds and adjust it according to the change in student numbers and the proportion of each type of SEN.
These measures would help students with SEN to better develop their potential. However, as Timothy Tam points out, they do not just need support at university.
“The symptoms still exist after going into universities and may even deteriorate due to the challenges of the new environment. At these vulnerable moments, [we] need more support from others,” Tam says. “Studying at the university is only a short phase, but the disabilities follow us lifelong.”
Edited by Venice Lai