Provisional Legislative Council

PLC Paper No. CB(1)1281
(These minutes have been
seen by the Administration)

Ref : CB1/PL/ED

Provisional Legislative Council
Panel on Education

Minutes of Meeting held on Thursday, 26 March 1998, at 10:45 am in Conference Room A of the Legislative Council Building

Members present :

Hon YEUNG Yiu-chung (Chairman)
Prof Hon NG Ching-fai (Deputy Chairman)
Hon Mrs Peggy LAM, JP
Hon Henry TANG Ying-yen, JP
Hon MA Fung-kwok
Dr Hon Mrs TSO WONG Man-yin
Hon TSANG Yok-sing
Dr Hon Charles YEUNG Chun-kam
Hon IP Kwok-him
Dr Hon LAW Cheung-kwok

Members absent :

Hon David CHU Yu-lin
Hon Eric LI Ka-cheung, JP
Hon Andrew WONG Wang-fat, JP

Public officers attending :

For Item III

Mr Matthew K C CHEUNG
Deputy Secretary for Education and Manpower (1)

Mr N J French, JP
University Grants Committee

Miss Angelina FUNG
Assistant Secretary for Education and Manpower (1)1

For Items IV and V

Mr Joseph Y T LAI
Deputy Secretary for Education and Manpower (3)

Ms Ellen CHOY
Principal Assistant Secretary for Education and Manpower (2)

Deputy Director of Education

Assistant Director of Education (Allocation and Support)

For Item IV

Deputy Director of Architectural Services

Project Director
Architectural Services Department

Senior Architect
Architectural Services Department

Architectural Services Department

Clerk in attendance :

Miss Polly YEUNG
Chief Assistant Secretary (1)3

Staff in attendance :

Ms Sarah YUEN
Senior Assistant Secretary (1)4

I. Confirmation of minutes of meeting and matters arising

1.The minutes of the Panel meeting held on 16 January 1998 were confirmed.
(PLC Paper Nos. CB(1)996 and 1162)

2. Members endorsed the Panel report to be tabled at the Council meeting on 7 April 1998 and authorised the Chairman and the Clerk to revise the report, if necessary, in the light of the deliberations at this meeting.

3.Members noted that on the advice of the Chairman, the Secretariat had written to the Administration for an update on the Panel's outstanding issues. They agreed that the issues should be followed up by the Education Panel formed under the first Legislative Council of the Special Administrative Region. Clerk

II.Information papers issued since last meeting

(PLC Paper Nos. 807, 842, 1181 and an information package on the Medium of Instruction Policy circulated to all PLC Members by general despatch)

4.Members noted that three information papers and an information package on the Medium of Instruction Policy had been issued for their general information since the last meeting.

III.Recurrent funding for UGC-funded institutions for 1998-2001

(PLC Paper No. CB(1)1168(01))

5.The Deputy Secretary for Education and Manpower (1) (DS/E&M1) briefed members on the proposed recurrent funding for the University Grants Committee (UGC)-funded institutions for the 1998-99 to 2000-01 triennium. Members noted that the relevant funding request would be considered by the Finance Committee on 27 March 1998.

The level of funding

6.In reply to members' request for details on the student unit costs, DS/E&M1 and the Secretary-General, UGC (SG/UGC) advised that while the average student unit cost for the 1996-97 academic year was around $220,000, the costs varied with institutions and academic programmes ranging from $160,000 for arts students to $580,000 for medical students. They agreed to provide before 27 March 1998 a detailed breakdown on the latest student unit costs for different academic programme categories at the UGC-funded institutions for members' reference.

(Post-meeting note: The said information was circulated to all PLC Members vide PLC Paper No. CB(1)1221.)

7.Some members were gravely concerned about the impact of the proposed 10% reduction in student unit cost between the final year of the current triennium (i.e., 1997-98) and that of the next triennium (i.e., 2000-01) on the quality of tertiary education. In response, DS/E&M1 emphasised that as the tertiary sector had entered a consolidation stage, the institutions would be able to reap the benefits from savings associated with economies of scale and the abandonment of front-end loading. Furthermore, certain tasks associated with expansion would no longer be necessary and institutions could improve management procedures. He also pointed out that the cost containment measures were supported by the UGC in response to the Administration's request for advice on the level of savings that could be achieved without detriment to the quality of education provided. Members noted that while half of the savings would be returned to the Government, the other half would be retained by the UGC for disbursement to institutions to meet new expenditure requirements and to encourage new developments, including the development of areas of excellence and additional quality assurance initiatives. Notwithstanding DS/E&M1's explanations, the Deputy Chairman expressed reservations on the claim that the 10% reduction would not affect the quality of tertiary education.

8.While welcoming a lower increase in tertiary tuition fees at a rate below inflation as a result of the reduction in unit cost, some members were concerned that the institutions might have to make up for the shortfall on their own should tuition fees fail to cover costs. To address their concerns, DS/E&M1 explained that the recurrent funding requirements were estimated net of tuition fees and other assumed incomes. As such, the level of tuition fees had no bearing on the funding requirements. The Administration would adjust the level of funding if actual tuition fees announced by the Government were lower than those indicated to the UGC by the Government for funding assessment purposes.

9.On whether funding for individual institutions would be reviewed according to the results of their management reviews presently being conducted , SG/UGC advised that there was no direct relationship between the level of funding and the outcome of the reviews which were essentially targeted at the institutions' own internal management processes for improvement . However, as with any quality assurance reviews undertaken by the UGC, the outcome of the reviews would become part of the information fed into the overall process of assessing the funding requirements of institutions in future. He added that if major deficiencies were identified in a particular area of an institution, the UGC might make part of the funding for that institution conditional upon rectification of those deficiencies.

Funding criteria

10.Commenting on Mr Charles YEUNG's suggestion of including relevance of students' academic disciplines to their future careers as a possible funding criterion for individual institutions, SG/UGC pointed out that as most academic disciplines in the institutions were general education programmes, there was difficulty in defining such relevance. He also cautioned against seeking to relate strictly particular subject disciplines to particular occupations. Members were however informed that individual institutions did undertake employment surveys and that statistics on the employment situation of their graduates about six months after graduation were provided to the UGC on an annual basis for reference. DS/E&M1 supplemented that the main objective of tertiary education was to provide an all-round education so that graduates would be able to contribute to society. He added that individuals' freedom of choice in employment should also be respected.

11.Some members opined that the assessment of funding requirements according to student intake might have the adverse effect of prompting institutions to admit students not up to the required standard for the purpose of fulfilling student number targets to secure funding. In response, SG/UGC clarified that although all higher education funding systems would inevitably consider as a basic provision the resources required for a certain target number of students, the UGC had already improved its funding methodology to take into account individual institutions' performance. Moreover, the UGC and Government had made it very clear that institutions would not be penalised by reduction in funding for slight under-enrolment arising from the need to maintain their minimum entry standards.

Other concerns

12.Addressing members' concern about the declining standard of university students, SG/UGC suggested that such concern might stem from a misconception arising from Hong Kong's recent expansion in tertiary education which might have lowered the average standard of students. He nevertheless assured members that the top 2 or 3 % of students nowadays were as good as their predecessors and were in some other aspects, even more creative and open to new influences. In this connection, DS/E&M1 further informed members that the institutions also organised language enhancement courses to improve undergraduates' language proficiency. All UGC-funded institutions had also undertaken to tighten their admission criteria so that unless in very special circumstances, they would not admit students whose language standard did not meet the minimum requirements.

13.Mr IP Kwok-him asked about the salary scale of vice-chancellors, in particular the case of the Vice-Chancellor of the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology who had been reportedly offered re-appointment at a salary level higher than that recommended by the UGC. In reply, DS/E&M1 said that arising from the recommendation of a UGC-commissioned review of heads of institutions' salary package, the salaries of the heads in the five larger UGC-funded institutions (i.e. the University of Hong Kong, the Chinese University of Hong Kong, the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, City University of Hong Kong and Hong Kong Polytechnic University) were pegged to D8 on the directorate pay scale of the civil service. However, those incumbents currently receiving salaries higher than D8 would not be affected during the validity of their respective contracts, but the new salary scale would apply in respect of new appointments or re-appointments. This was approved by the Finance Committee of the previous Legislative Council in June 1996. SG/UGC noted that in recognition that the vice-chancellors of individual institutions might already be receiving salaries higher than D8 and that for their re-appointment, such institutions might need to maintain their salary levels, the UGC had suggested freezing vice-chancellors' salaries at their current levels in money terms until such time when D8 reached such monetary level. The suggestion was discussed at the Finance Committee in June 1996 but a decision on it was deferred until a formal submission on any particular case came up. DS/E&M1 said that institutions were not allowed to use public funds to remunerate heads of institutions at levels above the approved salary scale. However, they could top up their vice-chancellors' salaries with private funds or donations if the donors so consented. Members noted that as the difference would not be met by public funds, Government approval for such arrangements was not necessary. In this connection, Mr IP expressed grave reservations on possible circumvention of UGC's recommended salary scales for vice-chancellors by individual institutions.

14.In response to some members' call for early introduction of the Home Financing Scheme for eligible staff in UGC-funded institutions, DS/E&M1 advised that while the Administration fully supported the Scheme, it was in the course of finalising operational arrangements such as the need for substantial cash injection at the early stage of implementation, the need to ensure the realisation of savings in the long term and the need to provide for the proper utilisation or redevelopment of existing staff quarters. He nevertheless assured members that the Administration was according high priority to resolving the outstanding issues regarding the Scheme and was planning to submit the relevant funding requirement to the Finance Committee early in the next legislative session so that the Scheme could be implemented as soon as possible in the 1998-99 academic year.

IV.New school designs

(PLC Paper Nos. CB(1)1168(02), 1200 and the "Design Report for New Standard Primary & Secondary Schools to be Completed by Year 2000 & Beyond" tabled at the meeting and circulated to absent members vide PLC Paper No. CB(1)1220)

15.With the aid of slides and video-tape, representatives of the Architectural Services Department (ASD) presented to members the new designs for primary and secondary schools due for completion from the year 2000 onwards. Members noted improved facilities such as larger classrooms, computer rooms and geography rooms, the provision of computer-assisted learning rooms, language rooms, and multi-purpose areas and improved design of external playgrounds. They also noted that the new designs had been able to optimise land use to increase the gross floor areas of new schools by around 40% without requiring larger sites.

Comments on the new designs

16.In response to members' comments on the quality of materials, the Senior Architect, ASD (SA/ASD) assured members that while finishes and materials would be upgraded in the new designs, they would not be too extravagant. She also noted a member's proposal to use sound-proof materials for staff rooms and common rooms situated close to playgrounds to ensure a quiet working environment for teachers.

17.Members were of the view that school halls should be large enough to accommodate all students during functions such as speech days. In response, SA/ASD pointed out that modifications had already been made in the new designs to provide for larger school halls. However, due to land resources limitation, hall capacity could only be increased from 600 to about 700 which might still fall short of accommodating all students.

18.As regards some members' proposal to include a flag pole in the designs for hoisting of the national flag, SA/ASD advised that flag poles were already standard provisions in all schools.

19.Regarding the use of lifts to facilitate mass movements, SA/ASD explained that while lifts were mainly designated for use by teachers, visitors and disabled persons, individual schools had the discretion to allow use of lifts by students. She however pointed out that according to fire safety legislation and the Education Ordinance, classrooms would not be situated above the sixth floor.

20.On the provision of parking spaces, representatives of the ED and ASD pointed out that the provision of eight to ten parking spaces in the new designs was already better than that required by town planning standards. They also stressed the need for maintaining a reasonable balance between the provision of open space for students and the provision of parking spaces for teachers in the light of space limitations.

21.In reply to the Chairman's enquiry on plans, if any, on installing air-conditioning in all schools instead of only in schools located in a noisy environment, the Deputy Secretary for Education and Manpower (3) stressed that due to policy and resource considerations, only schools under the noise abatement programme were now provided with air-conditioning. However, air-conditioning was already a standard provision for staff rooms, libraries and computer rooms in all schools. At the Chairman's request, he agreed to further study the matter, taking into consideration teachers' strong views in support of providing air-conditioning in all schools. Admin

22.Responding to Dr LAW Cheung-kwok's comment that the new designs should preferably cater for the use of such school facilities as halls, parking spaces and libraries by the neighbouring community, the Deputy Director of Education advised that there were established procedures for other parties to hire school facilities. Owing to security and management problems, the impact on the image of schools and higher housekeeping costs incurred by extended opening hours, the Administration had no plan to promote community use of school facilities.

The School Improvement Programme

23.As for renovation and upgrading of existing schools, the Assistant Director of Education (Allocation and Support) (AD of E) advised that parallel to the development of better designs for new schools, the Administration had also ensured that the teaching and learning environment in existing Government and aided schools would be improved through provision of additional facilities under the School Improvement Programme (SIP) launched several years ago and being implemented in phases. Members noted that the Administration would, as far as practicable, upgrade the facilities of existing schools to bring them in line with the latest schedule of accommodation. However, the additional facilities that could be included would depend on the circumstances of individual schools.

V. Demand and supply of primary and secondary school places

(PLC Paper No. CB(1)1168(03))

24. AD of E briefed members on the forecast of demand for primary and secondary school places in the 1998-99 to 2000-01 school years and the School Building Programme for meeting the demand. Members noted that in estimating the demand, the Education Department (ED) had taken account of existing policy targets and anticipated developments such as the provision of 9-year universal basic education, implementation of whole-day primary schooling, abolition of floating classes at Secondary 1 to 5 and school places required by newly arrived children and young people from the Mainland.

25.Addressing members' concern about the shortage of school places in Sai Kung and Yuen Long, representatives of ED pointed out that the paper had only listed new schools for which funding for their construction had been secured. Other new schools had been planned in response to needs and since sites for them had already been reserved and formed, they could be completed within 18 months after funding was secured to make up for the shortfall expeditiously. Members were assured that the Administration would closely monitor the demand and supply of primary and secondary school places and where necessary, would take appropriate measures to ensure adequate places to meet the demand. Such measures included the temporary use of surplus places in neighbouring districts.

Implementation of whole-day primary schooling

26.In response to a member's proposal to convert bi-sessional schools into whole-day operation through administrative measures to expedite the implementation of whole-day primary schooling, representatives of ED stressed that the Administration was determined to implement whole-day primary schooling and would try to achieve this as early as possible by actively urging schools to convert to whole-day operation. They however pointed out that implementation of the plan had to be supported by new school developments in the School Building Programme and the revision of class structure over time. As such, parents' preferences and the availability of sites were important factors for achieving the target.

27. Responding to members' query on the appropriateness of achieving whole-day schooling for 60% of primary students in 2002-03 by increasing the class size by two students instead of operating more classes in schools with vacant classrooms, the Deputy Director of Education explained that the addition of two students to each class was only a statistical forecast to ensure achievement of 60% whole-day primary education in the public sector. He assured members that the additional students would mainly be allocated only at primary one level. On the use of vacant classrooms, he confirmed that these rooms were either reserved for whole-day schooling, situated in remote areas or due to be demolished soon.

Other related concerns

28.Regarding administrative support for schools, the Administration clarified that provisions had already been made for more than 800 clerical posts in primary and secondary schools in the coming school year. They assured members that the staffing establishment of schools was under constant review, having regard to actual needs and other competing demands on resources.

29.Concluding the meeting, the Chairman thanked members and the Administration for their contribution to the Panel during the session.

30.The meeting ended at 1:00 p.m.

Provisional Legislative Council Secretariat
21 April 1998