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Combatting budget cuts
Universities have different tricks up their sleeves

The Office of Insitutional Advancement at The Chinese University is promoting a fund-raising culture in the university. (Antony Tam)

By Antony Tam & Winki Kwok

The University Grants Committee has decided to cut the budget for tertiary education starting from the academic year 2004/2005.

The cut is anticipated to be 10 percent.

The committee will release the exact figures for the next triennium in their meeting in January 2004. The cut is inevitable due to the government’s budget deficit, according to Michael V. Stone, secretary-general of the University Grants Committee.

One year prior to the decision, the government set up a dollar-for-dollar scheme for universities, in which matching grants are offered.

In this scheme, a fund of $1 billion has been set aside in the 2003/2004 government budget to reward universities that succeed in securing private donations for purposes other than the construction of campus buildings.

The fund is supposed to be a compensation for the budget cuts.

However, it is not enough.

“The matching grants cannot cover the drastic decrease in subsidies,” said Alexander Tzang, deputy president of the Hong Kong Polytechnic University.

He said that it is difficult for Hong Kong universities to become world-famous with insufficient financial resources. Funds are essential to train students to be competent in a knowledge-based economy in Hong Kong.

To combat the budget cuts, individual academic departments employ various strategies to reduce expenditures.

The maintenance of teaching facilities accounts for two-thirds of the total income of the Faculty of Engineering at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology.

Said Prof. Moe Cheung, head of the Department of Civil Engineering at the University of Science and Technology: “The maintenance and improvement work of laboratories has to be deferred in the face of budget cuts.”

These diminish students’ chances to catch up with latest construction technology and hinders them in achieving breakthroughs in research.

Department of Rehabilitation Sciences at the Hong Kong Polytechnic University is greatly affected, too. Its budget has already been cut by 24 percent this year because of the university’s policies.

The department offers two bachelor’s degree programs, namely a B.S. in physiotherapy and a B.S. in occupational therapy. In 1998, the numbers of places in these two programs were 150 and 90, respectively.

However, they were cut to 80 and 50 this year. They are predicted to plunge to 60 and 40, respectively, under further diminution of resources.

Prof. Christina Hui, head of the department, said that she does not understand the government’s decision.

“Hong Kong has an aging population with an increasing demand for physiotherapy,” said she. “I wonder why the government still cut the places. They didn’t even consult us.”

Apart from the decreasing places for enrollment, the number of staff members in the department has also declined from a peak of 49 to 41.

Said Prof. Hui: “We have dismissed four academic staff members because of their minimal qualifications. Four others have accepted early retirement or resigned on their own.”

Due to the recent budget cut announcement for the coming academic year, she predicts that the department will continue to lay off academic staff until the number is around 34.

In City University of Hong Kong, the Department of Public and Social Administration is taking similar steps to overcome budget difficulties. It has discontinued the contracts of three staff.

According to Prof. Joseph Cheng, professor of political science, the budget cut has put pressure on academic staff.

Said Prof. Cheng: “Contract academic staff are afraid that they will lose their jobs.

“It depresses the staff and lowers the morale of the department.”

The layoff also increases the workload of the remaining staff. The sizes of tutorial classes arebecoming larger. Meanwhile, some supporting courses, such as the out-of-discipline ones, are not able to provide tutorial classes at all.

“This is not favorable for Hong Kong students because most of them are passive in participating in class,” Prof. Cheng said. “A larger class size will further discourage them from participation.”

The budget has also affected students’ opportunities to enhance themselves academically. The department has established a fund that sponsors students to conduct projects related to their degree program for years.

However, it was temporarily suspended in the academic year 2003/2004.

Normally the fund covers up to 60 percent of proposed costs, up to a maximum award of $6,000 per individual. The suspension of the scheme distroys students’ incentive to do research.

On one hand, the academic departments are struggling in every way to reduce their expenditures; on the other hand, they have sought many solutions to raise their income.

Co-operation with mainland institutions is one of these solutions.

The Department of Rehabilitation Sciences co-operates with Huazhong University of Science and Technology to offer courses on physiotherapy and occupational therapy in China.

Said Prof. Hui: “Some of our academic staff teach in China and receive tuition fees from Huazhong University. We can thus keep the staff and minimize the number of layoffs.

“It is also a kind of academic exchange. We take the responsibility of training professional in this field as no similar courses is offered in China.”

The Department of Civil Engineering at the University of Science and Technology lessens the impact of budget cuts by doing research with related industries, such as construction industries.

“We have built close relationships with the industries. We share the sites, facilities, money, knowledge and research results. Finally, we can benefit from each other.

“They are also our main source of funds. To them, it is a kind of long-term investment because our students are their potential employees.”

Individual academic departments are thus making efforts to bring in financial resources. In addition to this, a number of universities have established centralized offices to co-ordinate all faculties and departments for fund-raising and institutional advancement.

This is encouraged by the government’s provision of seed money to set up such offices.

In July 2003, The Chinese University of Hong Kong set up the Office of Institutional Advancement. It aims at making contacts with potential donors and promoting a fund-raising culture within th university in the next few years.

Ricky Cheng, the director of the office, said that the office can be regarded as a matchmaker because its main duty is to match potential donors with academic units in need of subsidies.

Said he: “We first identify which units need funds by making contact with faculties, departments and the graduate school. Then, we take an active role in looking for donors who are interested in sponsoring specific projects.”

Since July, he has met the vice-chancellor, the pro-vice-chancellors, the heads of the four colleges and the head of the graduate school so as to have a thorough understanding on their future plans. The office then formulated a concrete working schedule.

“We discussed how to package their ‘products’ and how to introduce them to prospective donors at the beginning of each academic term,” said Mr. Cheng.

Wide interpersonal networks are an important factor to success.

Because the Chinese University is celebrating its 40th anniversary this year, Mr. Cheng is optimistic about the amount of funds that can be generated.

Said Mr. Cheng: “We can get extra financial support for the celebration.
“The Chinese University has nurtured a lot of prominent alumni since its establishment in 1963.

“Alumni make donations because of their sense of belonging and their generosity.

“The amount of funds raised has already surpassed our expectations.”

Compared to the Chinese University, the Hong Kong Institute of Education finds it harder to raise funds.

Over 90 percent of the institute’s operating income comes from government grants and student tuition fees. There has been no tradition of private donations in the institution.

According to information provided by the institute, the income from tuition fees is bound to decrease.

The number of students is declining because of demographic changes.

Together with the budget cuts, the institute estimates that it will start to run a deficit starting from 2004. It will reach $185 million in the academic year 2007/2008.

The task of fund-raising is thus becoming critical.

Katherine Ma, the director of the Communications and Institutional Advancement Office at the institute, regards her fund-raising job as a real challenge.

The office’s duties include motivating alumni for donations and introducing the institute to corporations that are interested in facilitating educational development.

Ms. Ma said, “Compared to other tertiary institutions, we are less competitive in fund-raising because we are not research-based and we have a short history.

“Only some large-scale capital projects, such as the construction of a kindergarten and primary school for practical internships, are supported.

“We hope that those who are enthusiastic about education can donate to us. Then we can provide more high quality training to prospective teachers.”

The institute is tackling a multitude of cost saving measures before a stable financial source is guaranteed.

Examples include staff redeployment, freezing vacancies and cancellations of temporary staff posts.

“We have saved a total of $51 million through measures like cutting equipment costs,” said Ms. Ma.

The Polytechnic University and the University of Science and Technology have other unique ways of raising funds.

The Alumni Affairs and Development Office at the Polytechnic University has launched a Tree Sponsorship Program.

Eight trees located in the central area of the university campus are named after donors.

Their names are engraved on acknowledgement plates beside the trees.

“The campaign has already raised about $1 million for the university,” said a spokesman for the office.

At the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, the Office of University Development and Public Affairs is the administrative unit responsible for raising funds.

A spokesman for the office said, “We launched an Adopt-a-Seat project.

“Alumni can adopt their most favorite seats in the lecture theatres with a donation more than $3,000.

“Donors will receive commemorative plaques with the names of their choice and affixed to their preferred seats.”

The Adopt-a-Seat project has received nearly $700,000 from alumni since its introduction in August this year.

Left & right: Katherine Ma, director of the Communications and Institutional Advancement Office at the Institute of Education, regards her fund-raising job as a real challenge. (Antony Tam)