LegCo Paper No. CB(1)1799/95-96
(These minutes have been seen by the Administration)
Ref : CB1/PL/ED/1

LegCo Panel on Education

Minutes of Meeting
held on Friday, 21 June 1996 at 10:45 a.m.
in Conference Room B of the Legislative Council Building

Members Present :

    Dr Hon Anthony CHEUNG Bing-leung (Chairman)
    Hon CHEUNG Hon-chung (Deputy Chairman)
    Hon SZETO Wah
    Hon CHEUNG Man-kwong
    Hon Henry TANG Ying-yen, JP
    Hon IP Kwok-him
    Dr Hon LAW Cheung-kwok
    Dr Hon John TSE Wing-ling

Member Absent :

    Dr Hon YEUNG Sum

Members Attending :

    Hon Albert CHAN Wai-yip
    Hon LI Wah-ming

Public Officers Attending :

Item III
Mr Matthew K C CHEUNG, JP
Deputy Secretary for Education and Manpower
Miss Lisa CHAN
Acting Principal Assistant Secretary for Education and Manpower
Mr N J French, JP
University Grants Committee

Items IV and V
Mr Joshua C K LAW, JP
Deputy Secretary for Education and Manpower
Mrs Helen C P Lai YU, JP
Director of Education

Item IV
Assistant Secretary (Works Policy)2
Works Branch
Mr Philip LAU Yiu-wah
Assistant Director/Specialist
Buildings Department
Acting Government Geotechnical Engineer/Island
Civil Engineering Department
Assistant Director (Property Services)
Architectural Services Department
Miss L B IP
Senior Education Officer (Schools)

Item V
Ms Olivia NIP
Principal Assistant Secretary for Education and Manpower
Mr PUN Tin-chi
Board of Education, Member
Dr Simon LEUNG
Board of Education, Member
Mrs Laura LING
Board of Education Sub-Committee on Special Education, Member
Board of Education Sub-Committee on Special Education, Member
Assistant Director of Education (Services)
Principal Inspector
(Special Education Inspectorate & Placement)

Staff in Attendance :

    Miss Pauline NG, ASG1
    Miss Polly YEUNG, CAS(1)3
    Ms Connie SZE-TO, SAS(1)5

I. Confirmation of minutes of last meeting and matters arising

(LegCo Paper No. CB(1)1462/95-96)

The minutes of the Panel meeting held on 3 May 1996 were confirmed.

II. Date of next meeting and items for discussion

2. Members agreed to advance the next Panel meeting originally scheduled for 19 July 1996 to 12 July 1996 at 8:30 a.m. to discuss the following items :

  1. Education for Chinese immigrant children; and
  2. Support services for students with learning difficulties.

III. Funding policy on tertiary education

(Appendix A of LegCo Paper No. CB(1)1657/95-96, a press article prepared by Dr Hon LAW Cheung-kwok tabled at the meeting.)

3. Upon invitation by the Chairman, Mr Matthew CHEUNG briefly introduced the paper and advised members of a typographical error in paragraph 5 where the word “graduate” in lines 4 and 6 should be replaced by “student”.

4. In view of the rapid increase in expenditure on tertiary education and the growth in unit costs of UGC funded-institutions, members expressed grave concern about measures to improve cost-effectiveness and the quality of graduates. A member pointed out that there was a positive correlation between unit costs in an institution and its proportion of teaching staff appointed on expatriate terms and enquired about the institutions’ policies and progress in implementing “common terms” in the employment of local and overseas teaching staff as a means to reduce unit costs. The member also noticed that there was a proposal to change the academic structure of tertiary education from the present three-year to a four-year curriculum and asked about the financial implications.

5. Addressing members’ concerns, Mr N J French made the following points :

  1. The tertiary education system in Hong Kong had undergone rapid expansion since 1989 to meet the target of providing first-year first-degree places for 18% of the students in the age group of 17 to 20 by 1994-95. In the course of rapid development, UGC had endeavoured to ensure that the quality of education had not be compromised. The quality of graduates and the researches undertaken by the institutions were of international standards. In the 1995-98 triennium, the tertiary system had entered a period of consolidation in terms of its overall size and more attention would be given to upgrading the quality of education and removing built-in inefficiency as a result of rapid expansion in the system. The UGC would submit to the Administration shortly a report on the review of the development of higher education. Issues including measures to reduce unit costs and targets to be achieved would be addressed.
  2. One of the proposals under consideration was to undertake “management reviews” in the institutions so as to identify processes and areas for improving efficiency and ensuring deployment of resources in the most cost-effective manner. Details of the proposal were yet to be discussed by the UGC and it was expected that the review would be embarked upon by late 1997.
  3. The UGC-funded institutions enjoyed antomony in determining the terms of employment for their staff, provided that they were comparable to and not better than those offered to staff of similar rank in the civil service. The institutions had implemented or in the course of implementing certain aspects of “common terms” for newly appointed staff and for renewal of contracts. When common terms of service were applied to the entire civil service, the institutions would follow suit. The possible reduction in cost as a result of removing expatriate terms of service would be minimal.
  4. Concerning the academic structure, the implementation of the recommendation in Education Commission Report No. 3 to adopt a normative three-year undergraduate curriculum in institutions was completed in 1994-95. It was too early to conduct a further review. However, institutions were allowed to vary the length of their academic programmes where there were proven needs. Current examples were the degree programmes on architecture and medicine.

6. Members shared the view that reduction in unit costs on tertiary education must not be achieved at the expense of the quality of education. A member expressed concern about admission of students below the entry requirements by some institutions. Another member also pointed out the undesirability of employing less experienced teaching staff as a means to reduce unit costs.

7. In response, Mr French made the following points :

    a. In order to ensure mechanisms were in place for promoting and improving teaching and learning quality in the institutions, Teaching and Learning Quality Process Review (TLQPR) had been undertaken in institutions since early 1995. Membership of the TLQPR panel comprised internationally renowned academics and experienced teaching staff from local institutions. The Panel conducted rigorous and thorough evaluations and made recommendations for improvement where necessary. Reviews for the University of Hong Kong (HKU) and Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK) were conducted in January 1996 while those for Hong Kong Baptist University (HKBU) and Hong Kong University of Science and Technology (HKUST) were completed in April 1996. Review for Lingnan College was expected to commence in September 1996 and those for Hong Kong Polytechnic University and City University of Hong Kong would begin in January 1997. Reports on HKU, CUHK, HKBU and HKUST would be finalised shortly and expected to be published in their entirety in the latter half of 1996.

    b. Information on cases of admission of students with language proficiency below the minimum entry requirement had been provided by the UGC earlier on. To address students’ needs, language enhancement classes were organised by institutions. The UGC had also urged institutions to enforce the minimum language entry requirement more strictly. As regards admission of students with results in subjects below the prescribed minimum requirements, there might have been exceptions where students with marginal qualifications in some subjects but with good academic results in most of subjects relevant to the discipline they applied for would be admitted. Additional support would be provided to these students to enable them to catch up with the required standard. The UGC would seek information from the institutions on the issue and provide a written reply after the meeting.

    c. Institutions were given autonomy in staff appointment. While it was believed that institutions would employ suitably qualified teaching staff, the employment of young and aspiring staff, though junior and less experienced, might help in enhancing the quality of teaching.

8. In order to fully utilise resources at UGC-funded institutions, a member suggested that credit unit courses be organised during the summer holidays to provide students with greater flexibility in early completion of the undergraduate programme. Another member also suggested to make available teaching and research facilities to visiting students and enquired whether consideration could be given to prescribing a certain percentage on undergraduates to be admitted from the People’s Republic of China (PRC).

9. In response, Mr French advised as follows :

  1. Language training and supplementary training programmes, such as field trips, were organised during the summer holidays. Research was normally conducted during this period as well. It was undesirable to cram courses in the summer months since some institutions already considered the existing three-year structure too tight. Further curtailment of undergraduate programme would not be conducive to quality education.
  2. While it was inappropriate for the UGC to prescribe the number of non-local students to be admitted by institutions, the UGC had been encouraging institutions to make better use of their facilities by offering training and courses to overseas students. There had been an increasing number of PRC students studying in local institutions for post-graduate and doctoral degrees as well as engaging in research projects.

10. Responding to members’ concern about monitoring the triennial grants of institutions and increasing transparency in their operations, Mr French replied as follows :

  1. The new funding methodology for disbursement of grants served to relate funding to performance and output of institutions. While assessment in quality of teaching would not be directly reflected in funding for teaching activities, results of the Research Assessment Exercise would form the major basis for allocation of research funding to institutions.
  2. The UGC attached great importance to increasing openness in the operation of the institutions. Examples of monitoring mechanisms included submission for UGC’s scrutiny monthly cumulative statements of expenditure and income and annual statistical returns on staff, students and finance; legal obligation for institutions to produce annual audited accounts. To facilitate public perusal of these documents/reports, UGC had been working with the institutions to standardise the presentation of information.

11. On funding for research, a member opined that it was advisable to encourage more funding sponsorship from the private sector by providing incentives, such as tax reduction, to entrepreneurs. Mr French advised that at present, the majority of research projects undertaken in the institutions were public-funded. The Earmarked Research Grants were awarded by the Research Grant Council (RGC) through a process of rigorous external peer-review to ensure that only those projects of sufficiently high standard in terms of academic merit, financial viability and methodology would be supported. The UGC and RGC had been working closely to widen the base of research resources by promoting applied and contract research for the private sector. Among the $1.2 billion research funding for 1993-94, about one-third were sponsored by local industries, charitable foundations and overseas companies. Nevertheless, the dominance of companies in Hong Kong with relatively small capital had to a certain extent limited their financial support for academic research activities.

12. In response to a member’s enquiry on the proposal to charge differential tuition fees for different disciplines in higher education, Mr French confirmed that UGC had been invited to advise on the feasibility and desirability of the proposal and would tender its advice to the Administration shortly.

IV. Dangerous slopes in the vicinity of schools

(Appendices B and C of LegCo Paper No. CB(1) 1657/95-96; information on emergency hotlines and a press release provided by the Administration tabled at the meeting enclosed at Annex I)

13. Members expressed strong dissatisfaction towards the Administration’s maintenance and landslip preventive works for slopes situated in the vicinity of schools. They were concerned about the lack of co-ordination among Government departments in dealing with the problem and insufficient assistance offered to affected schools.

14. In response, Mrs Helen YU and Mr S H MAK briefed members on the responsibility of schools for slope maintenance work and the assistance provided by the Administration :

  1. The Administration was responsible for maintenance of public slopes within or in the vicinity of schools. Sub-standard public old man-made slopes included in the 1977/78 Slope Catalogue had been covered under the Landslide Preventive Measures (LPM) Programme, under which upgrading works was undertaken by the Geotechnical Engineering Office (GEO) of the Civil Engineering Department (CED) with priority given to those slopes affecting schools. At present, five schools were being affected by 3 slopes in the LPM Programme under which upgrading works for one slope had been completed, one would be due for completion in August 1996 and one, in November 1997.
  2. For dangerous private slopes within the boundaries of aided schools under private ownership and private schools, the school would be issued with a Dangerous Hillside Order (DHO) requiring it to appoint an Authorised Person (AP)/a consultant to carry out investigation and necessary landslip preventive works. Currently, the DHOs served to 14 schools were still in force and works for two schools had been practically completed.
  3. The Education Department (ED) had taken up a co-ordinating role among various works departments in providing schools with professional advice on maintenance and repair works as well as enquiry and helpline services in the event of emergency. Useful information including the Works Branch Advisory Note on “Inspection and Maintenance of Buried Drainage and Water Services Affecting Slopes” and the GEO’s “Layman’s Guide to Slope Maintenance”, had been issued to schools. Annual reminders before the rainy season were sent to schools to advise them to be vigilant including risk from slopes. Two seminars were organised for school principals and their assistants on slope maintenance for schools.
  4. Prompt assistance had been offered to the 19 affected schools. Advice on dealing with their situation had been sent to them and an experience-sharing session for the schools held on 12 June 1996 and attended by 16 principals.

15. A member was particularly concerned that no independent survey on slopes in the vicinity of schools was conducted. Besides, the 1977/78 Slope Catalogue was out-dated and many schools were situated near natural slopes with potential risks which were not covered by the Catalogue. He urged the Administration to conduct the study immediately.

16. Addressing the member’s concern, Mrs YU advised that the ED had conducted a preliminary survey on all the location of schools early this year and identified that some 400 schools had slopes within or in the vicinity of their boundaries. The results were sent to the CED at the end of March 1996 for follow-up and any action necessary. Mr S H MAK advised that a territory-wide survey on all sizeable man-made slopes had been undertaken since 1994 for the purpose of compiling an up-dated slope catalogue. The survey was expected to be completed by end of 1997. Slopes found to pose imminent landslide danger would be urgently included under the LPM Programme to effect necessary remedial work immediately.

17. Regarding slope safety measures, Members opined that the existing arrangement under which affected schools were responsible for drawing up their own contingency plan for landslide with advice from relevant Government departments or the appointed AP or consultant was undesirable. They expressed concern about whether schools had the professional knowledge to make the decision and queried that different advice on similar situations had been given to schools by the ED. Some members urged that clear guidelines on contingency plan including evacuation procedures should be issued to schools. A member further urged the Administration to consider installing alarm system in schools with potential slope hazards.

18. In response, Mrs YU and Mr S H MAK made the following points :

  1. Schools affected by the LPM Programme would be informed of the results of slope inspection works progress and any precautionary measures required to be undertaken. Works departments and the ED would advise generally on the drawing up of the contingency plan as appropriate. However, it would be necessary for school principals to confer with the consultants or authorised professionals knowledgeable in their specific slopes to work out a detailed contingency plan. As regards contingency plan for Cognitio College, which was currently under the LPM Programme with repair works to be completed by November 1997, the GEO considered that no special arrangement was required in the contingency plan.
  2. For schools issued with DHOs, the AP/consultant appointed was responsible for taking precautionary measures prior to completion of permanent slope work. In drawing up a contingency plan, schools were best advised by these professionals as they would have specific information from their investigation and works on the slopes.
  3. It was important that schools should develop their own contingency plans to suit their individual situations rather than to follow a standard plan prepared by the ED or some central department. In this connection, the ED was re-examining all guidelines and advice issued so far with a view to consolidating a comprehensive circular to facilitate schools to work out their own safety measures. It had to be stressed that information pamphlets and booklets on slope safety measures provided by works departments only served as useful guide to schools for year-round routine checks. Schools authorities should be alive to the potential risk and be alert to the need for timely inspection and regular maintenance of slopes. They should seek professional advice and assistance upon any indication suspected to pose risks.

19. As members still had a lot of questions on the item, it was agreed that discussion would continue at the next Panel meeting. The Chairman also requested members to forward their questions, if any, in writing to the Panel Clerk for onward referral to the Administration.

    (Post-meeting note: Members have been requested to send their questions to the Clerk vide LegCo Paper CB(1)1689/95-96.)

20. The Administration was requested to respond to concerns raised in Hon CHEUNG Man-kwong’s paper (Appendix B of LegCo Paper No. CB(1)1657/95-96) and other issues discussed at the meeting.

V. Review on provision of special education

(LegCo Paper Nos. CB(1)1593/95-96 and Appendix D of CB(1)1657/95-96)

21. Members in general supported the 12 major recommendations with financial implications proposed by the Board of Education (BoE)’s Sub-committee on Special Education to improve the present provision of special education and urged the Administration to provide the necessary funding for implementation. A member enquired whether the Education and Manpower Branch could secure sufficient resources in the coming Resource Allocation Exercise (RAE) for implementing the recommendations in 1997-98.

22. In reply, Mr Joshua LAW advised that at the present stage, the Sub-committee’s report was still under public consultation. The BoE would first deliberate on the results of consultation and then put forward recommendations to the Government for consideration. Until then, it was premature to discuss funding arrangement for implementing the recommendations. Moreover, the voting of funds for various programme areas would depend very much on their relative importance.

23. On the way forward in the development of special education, a member opined that the ultimate goal should be the integration into the ordinary school system. He observed that the report had only addressed short term problems in special education but not long-term plans for improving the quality of special education and achieving the goal of integration.

24. At the invitation by the Chairman, members of the Sub-committee explained that all recommendations put forward were considered essential in addressing long-standing problems which had impeded the healthy development of special education. The Sub-committee had identified some of the more immediate and medium-range needs that had to be addressed expeditiously in order to pave the way for “integration” in the long run. Since the introduction of integration in 1970s, progress had been made in placing students with special education needs (SEN) in regular schools with supportive and remedial services provided to them. The School Improvement Programme administered by the ED had been providing facilities such as ramp and lifts in ordinary schools to cater for SEN students. Nonetheless, much had to be done to advance the cause of integration. Increased social education and publicity to bring about attitudinal change were necessary. Therefore the report had also advocated the building up of a social culture of more public acceptance of SEN students and greater awareness on special education in teacher training programmes. A more comprehensive review on the subject was recommended to be conducted five years later.

25. Noting that the deadline for consultation was imminent and that the Chinese version of the full report was still under preparation, a member considered such consultation arrangement unsatisfactory. In response, Mr T C PUN explained that the Sub-committee had been working under a tight schedule. However recognising the need to consult the public, ideally in both English and Chinese, members of the Sub-committee were also anxious to submit the recommendations to the Administration as soon as possible to tie in with bids for necessary resources in the coming RAE. Mr LAW assured members that preparation of the Chinese version would be expedited. Meanwhile, the bilingual executive summary could also serve as useful information for the public.

    (Post-meeting note: The Chinese version was published on 2 July 1996.)

26. The meeting ended at 1:45 p.m.

LegCo Secretariat
25 July 1996

Last Updated on 14 Aug, 1998