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February 2000

Tertiary education

University may ‘go private’

By Natalie Siu

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Public universities have played the dominant role in tertiary education in Hong Kong, but the situation may change with the establishment of a private university.

Following suggestions for the development of a private university in Hong Kong, Shue Yan College is taking steps to be recognized as Hong Kong’s first private university.

At the College, there are campaigns to support the issue. Symposiums are being held. A committee was also set up to support the cause, too.

According to Dr. Wong Kam Cheung, head of the Department of Education at the University of Hong Kong, the difference between a private university and a public university mainly lies in the subsidies given by the government.

“The day-to-day expenditures of a private university are not subsidized.

The government gives only a certain amount of money and resources to the university, including land for building the campus,” said Dr. Wong.

Prof. Cheng Kai Ming, pro-vice chancellor at the University of Hong Kong and member of the Education Commission, said when compared with public universities, a private university enjoys a higher degree of flexibility.

This is because public universities have to meet the needs of government, as the government subsidizes them.

“There are always constraints if the university depends on the government,” said Prof. Cheng.

As for private universities, they are accountable to market forces since private universities are financially independent. Flexibility in administration is greater.

“However, they still have financial constraints,” said Hong Kong University’s Dr. Wong.

“We have to consider the social demand and richness of resources,” Dr. Wong added.

“If the people are wealthy enough, they don’t mind spending more on education and paying the entire tuition fee.”

He said he believed it is possible to develop a private university in Hong Kong, as he thinks Hong Kong has achieved a certain level of prosperity, even though the local economy has worsened in the past few years.

As Hong Kong is a densely populated area, the demand for talents will increase in the future. Dr. Wong supposes that it is difficult to rely wholly on public universities to satisfy all the demands.

From his point of view, a private university could fill the gap.

Prof. Cheng also said a private university could succeed in Hong Kong.

This is because only about 18 percent of secondary students are admitted to local universities, which are very low when compared with other Asian countries.

“The population of Taiwan is four times than that of Hong Kong, but the number of universities is 10 times more,” said Prof. Cheng.

Hence, Prof. Cheng thinks that there should have room for the development of a private university as the needs do exist.

Though there is room for the development of a private university in society, it is not easy to start.

“If a private university is not founded from an existing public institution, surely an amount of starting capital is required,”

Prof. Cheng said that in order to start a private university, the academic level of the institution should meet a minimum standard. Besides, the graduates have to tailor to the demand of society.

Dr. Wong also agrees that it is not easy for a private university to start at this stage.

“A good private university should meet the social needs and consider what the needs are,” he said.

As resources are vital for a private university, Dr. Wong finds that a private university does not enjoy an advantage to start at this moment.

“We have to consider how to increase the resources and how to improve facilities,” said Mr. Choi Kai Yan, who is a member of the Committee for Attainment of University Status.

Mr. Choi said that the greatest difficulties are the financial problems and the misconceptions of the general public.

“As the government does not emphasize and subsidize the development of a private university, most people in Hong Kong think that a private university is worse than the public universities.”

Some people doubt that the quality of students admitted to the College does not up to the standard.

Dr. Chung Chi Yung, vice-president of the College, said the College has adopted a policy of lenient admission but with a strict standard for graduation.

“Our college has practically attained the level of a university but the title of university has not yet been granted,” said Dr. Chung.

Mr. Choi said he believed that it is important to address people’s prejudices against private universities.

Dr. Wong said education will be diversified if both private and public universities are developed in a healthy way in the future.

“A private university surely can be more efficient in the managerial aspect.

“I’m sure the efficiency could be raised greatly.

“To the whole society, parents’, students’ and institutions’ choices will be greater,” Prof. Cheng concluded.




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Campaigners at Shue Yan College seeking private university status. (Courtesy of The Office of Student Affairs of Shue Yan College)




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(Natalie Siu)



Internet Links:
Education Department
Shue Yan College
University of Hong Kong

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