Provisional Legislative Council

PLC Paper No. CB(1)650
(These minutes have been
seen by the Administration)

Ref : CB1/PL/ED

Provisional Legislative Council
Panel on Education

Minutes of Meeting held on Friday, 21 November 1997, 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)
Dr Hon Mrs TSO WONG Man-yin
Hon IP Kwok-him
Dr Hon LAW Cheung-kwok

Member attending :

Hon Mrs Selina CHOW, JP

Members absent :

Hon David CHU Yu-lin
Hon Eric LI Ka-cheung, JP
Hon Mrs Peggy LAM, JP
Hon Henry TANG Ying-yen, JP
Hon MA Fung-kwok
Hon TSANG Yok-sing
Hon Andrew WONG Wang-fat, JP
Dr Hon Charles YEUNG Chun-kam

Public officers attending :

For Items IV to V

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

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

Mrs Helen C P LAI YU
Director of Education

Assistant Director of Education (Schools)

For Item VI

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

Ms Michelle LI
Principal Assistant Secretary for Education and Manpower (1)

Mr Alfred W K WONG
Controller, Student Financial Assistance Agency

Mr J D Willis
Controller, Student Financial Assistance Agency (Des)

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 meetings and matters arising
(PLC Paper Nos. CB(1)436 and 464)

1.The minutes of the Panel meetings held on 9 and 17 October 1997 were confirmed.

II.Date and items for discussion for next meeting

2.Members agreed to discuss the following items at the next regular meeting to be held on Friday, 19 December 1997, at 10:45 a.m. -

  1. Revision of textbooks; and

  2. Allocation of school places

III.Information papers issued since last meeting
(PLC Paper Nos. CB(1)441, 446, 471 and 476)

3.Members noted that four information papers and the Report on Review of 9-year Compulsory Education (Revised Edition) had been issued for their information.

IV.Admission procedures for Secondary 6 students
(PLC Paper No. CB(1)507(01))

4.The Assistant Director of Education (Schools) (AD of E) briefed members on the Administration's proposal for a revised procedure for admission to Secondary Six (S6) formulated after a recent review of the 1997 Secondary Six Admission Procedure (the Procedure) and subsequent consultation with major school councils and education bodies. Members noted that major proposed improvements included the shortening of Stage I of the Procedure from one day to half-a-day, during which students with 14 points or more (gained from the best six subjects in one sitting of the Hong Kong Certificate of Education Examination) might apply to their own or linked school(s), and the advancing of Stage II, at which students might apply to other schools, to the afternoon of Day 1. The Administration believed that by allowing students who could not secure an S6 place in their own schools to apply to other schools on Day 1, their anxiety could be eased.

Malpractice and remedies

5.In reply to members' questions regarding complaints against non-compliance with the Procedure on the part of schools, AD of E reported that in 1995, 15 complaints were received, of which ten were substantiated. In 1996, the number of complaints was 22, of which nine were substantiated. In 1997, the numbers were 18 and 11 respectively. The complaints in question included the admission of students ahead of the schedule and schools refusing to admit their own students who had attained 14 points. On whether the Education Department (ED) was able to help all the students involved in these cases to gain admission to S6 in their schools, the Director of Education (D of E) stated that although this was procedurally feasible, each case would have to be considered on its own merits. She cautioned that other factors such as reluctance on the part of the students to return to their own schools, difficulty in increasing the size of S6 classes and the need to ensure fairness to students already admitted might affect the outcome of the ED's attempt to help.

6.On the effectiveness of central allocation in ensuring the admission of all students with the minimum Advanced Level entry requirements to S6 places, AD of E advised that as only a small number of S6 places were left for central allocation, there was difficulty in satisfying all demands. He gave the example that only 121 places were available in 1997 and that there were on average about 1,000 students seeking central allocation each year.

Sanctions on schools

7.Responding to members' concerns about the effectiveness of sanctions on non-complying schools, representatives of the ED emphasised that the ED had already stepped up its sanctions. For example, instead of just issuing warning letters, the ED would invite the supervisors of the schools concerned to receive the warning letter in person to impress upon them the seriousness of the matter and ED's grave concern. The ED had also written to school sponsoring bodies to inform them that their track records, including any malpractice by schools under their sponsorship, would be taken into account when they applied to operate new schools in future. Members noted that after being warned, schools would abide by the Procedure and no repeated offence had been detected. The Administration further reaffirmed their commitment to ensuring that the S6 admission procedure would be fair and open and that where necessary, appropriate sanctions would be applied to forestall malpractice. Members were also assured that schools were fully aware of the consequences of non-compliance and that the ED would promulgate the revised procedure to schools in due course.

Preventive measures

8.The ED agreed to consider a member's proposal to require schools to display the name list of students admitted at each stage to prevent falsification of information on the vacancy situation. They also assured members that although schools would be allowed to admit students from other schools in the afternoon of Day 1 under the proposed procedure, the ED would see to it that schools would continue to award priority to their own students.

V.Educational exchanges between Hong Kong and the Mainland
(PLC Paper No. CB(1)507(02))

9.Members noted that the ED's involvement in educational exchanges between Hong Kong and the Mainland took the following forms -

  1. bilateral visits between various sections of the ED and the educational institutions in the Mainland;

  2. co-operation with Mainland educational institutions in organising exchange activities for students and teachers; and

  3. provision of support to teachers and students taking part in the exchanges.

Safety measures

10.Addressing members' concern over schools' liabilities in organising exchange activities, representatives of the ED explained that while the department had arranged for all aided and Caput schools a Block Insurance Policy covering public liability, personal accidents to students and employees' compensation risks, it would always encourage schools to take out extra insurance to cover their liabilities.

11.On the aspect of safety, members noted that for schools organising their own exchange activities, ED's guidelines on organisation of outdoor activities would apply. The ED would also remind these schools to maintain close contact with host organisations in the Mainland and take appropriate safety measures. Where necessary, the ED would assist in identifying the appropriate governmental organisations to facilitate communication. The D of E stressed that guidelines, no matter how comprehensive, could not cover all contingency situations and replace individuals' common sense and good judgement.

12.The D of E and AD of E further advised that in the event of exchange activities where the ED was involved, both its departmental staff and representative(s) of the New China News Agency, which had been assisting the ED in liaising with Mainland organisations, would accompany the delegation.


13.The Administration informed members that the sources of funding varied according to the nature of the exchange activities. In general, schools could apply to the Advisory Inspectorate Division of the ED for subsidies; or seek funding from the Language Fund if the exchange activities involved the learning of Putonghua. Exchange activities in the form of interport sports competitions would receive sports-related subsidies. The Curriculum Development Institute also organised and funded exchange visits and exhibitions. Members further noted that the Quality Education Fund and private donations/sponsorship secured by the ED or schools would provide other sources of funding for exchange activities. In reply to members, the Administration did not consider it necessary to make special provisions to fund exchange activities. Nevertheless, it would provide more information on the various sources of funding for exchange activities. Apart from exchange activities with the Mainland, the ED would attach equal importance to similar activities with other territories.

Criteria for participation and the effect of activities

14.On the criteria for selecting students and teachers to take part in exchange activities, the D of E advised that at present, selection would be based on the recommendations of schools or relevant organisations as a form of recognition for good performance.

15.On the question of granting teachers paid leave to take part in exchange activities, the D of E explained that principals and teachers of Government or aided schools could apply to the ED for paid leave according to the provisions of the Civil Service Regulations and the Codes of Aid. In reply to the Chairman, she confirmed that as far as the ED was concerned, teachers and principals would be granted paid leave for participation in educational activities only. Whether paid leave should be granted for participation in political activities in the Mainland was a wider issue which had to be further examined by the relevant Bureaux.

16.Concerning the effect of exchange activities on participants, representatives of the ED reported that feedback had so far been positive. Students were able to enrich their knowledge on the culture, geography and history of China and improve their proficiency in Putonghua. Nevertheless, as suggested by members, the ED would consider conducting a more systematic assessment of the effect of exchange activities.

VI.Briefing on non-means tested loan scheme and improvements to the Local Student Finance Scheme
(PLC Briefs ref. EMB TC 7/96 Pt.14 and EMB 43/2041/85 Pt. 14)

17.Members noted that the Administration would forward its funding request for the non-means tested loan scheme and improvements to the Local Student Finance Scheme (LSFS) to the Finance Committee on 28 November 1997.

(Post-meeting note: the item was rescheduled for 5 December 1997.)

Non-means tested loan scheme

18.DS/E&M(1) said that Administration would propose to introduce the proposed non-means tested loan scheme (NLS) in the 1998-99 academic year to replace the Extended Loan Scheme (ELS) which was set up for students who had marginally failed the means test under the LSFS and those successful applicants who received a low level of financial assistance under the LSFS. He reiterated that the NLS was meant to complement the existing LSFS and the Administration would continue to provide means-tested grants and loans under the LSFS.

19.While welcoming the NLS in principle, members considered the interest rate of the NLS, pitched at 1.5% above the Civil Service Housing Loan Scheme (CSHLS) interest rate, too high. Mrs Selina CHOW opined that students should not be subject to an interest rate higher than that for the CSHLS which had already been computed to ensure no gain and no loss to the Government. Some members queried the justification for imposing an additional 1.5% to cover risks borne by the Government. As most tertiary students would stay and take up employment in Hong Kong after graduation, members were of the view that the risk of bad debt was very low.

20.In response, representatives of the Administration highlighted the following reasons in support of the risk - adjusted interest rate -

  1. As a matter of principle, tertiary education was in part a personal investment. It was therefore unjustified that taxpayers should subsidise students who might either fail the means test or who were not prepared to be means-tested.

  2. Unlike the CSHLS where the government's loan could be secured by the civil servant's pension and property, loans under the NLS were totally unsecured. To maintain a reasonable balance between the amount to be paid by Government and the users, the Joint Committee on Student Finance (JCSF) considered it reasonable to include a risk-adjusted element in the interest rate.

  3. Although the default rate of repayment of extended loans in the past was below 1%, the maximum repayment period of ten years under the NLS was much longer than the maximum of five years under the LSFS and ELS. This would inevitably increase the associated risks.

21.Dr LAW Cheung-kwok queried the Administration's claim that student representative on the JCSF supported the risk-adjusted interest rate. In response, the Controller, Student Financial Assistance Agency (C/SFAA) informed members that student representatives welcomed the NLS but had expressed concern over the rate of risk adjustment.

22.As regards the methodology of computing the additional 1.5%, the Principal Assistant Secretary for Education and Manpower (1) said that the 1.5% was proposed by the consultants commissioned to review the LSFC and agreed upon by the JCSF after detailed discussion.

23.Commenting on members' suggestion that loan repayment, notably the repayment period, should be more flexible so as not to cause any undue burden on students, the Administration confirmed that under the existing scheme arrangements, flexibility in repayment terms was available in case the student experienced genuine difficulties.

Improvements to the LSFS

24.Members in general supported the improvement measures. Commenting on the proposal to dispense with the expenditure component in the assessment formula, Mrs Selina CHOW considered it unreasonable to discount essential expenditure items such as property mortgage re-payment.

25.In response to members' comments on the proposed income test, C/SFAA pointed out that generally speaking, families had much less discretion on how much they earned than how much they spent. As such, the existing assessment formula, which was mainly based on disposable income, tended to provide less assistance to families which exercised prudence in spending whilst providing more assistance to those with higher earnings but which chose to spend more, particularly on mortgage and real estate. To remove this anomaly and to target the LSFS at the genuinely needy, the Administration considered the exclusion of the expenditure component from the existing formula appropriate.

26.As regards the asset test, C/SFAA clarified that the Administration would also propose to relax it to the effect that the value of the first home would not be counted in calculating the household asset and only the net value of the second home would be taken into account. Moreover, the asset ceiling would be set at $500,000 for each household member. He further pointed out that the proposal to equalise the treatment of liquid and fixed assets in the asset test would enhance equity of the scheme and was in line with the practices in other Government assistance schemes.

27.Mrs Selina CHOW reiterated her serious concern that upon replacement of the ELS by the NLS, students who were hitherto paying an interest of 4% under the ELS would be worse off as they would be subject to an interest of 7.5% under the NLS. She urged the Administration to consider encompassing these marginally ineligible students under the LSFS.

28.In response, C/SFAA informed members that there were only 911 students receiving extended loans in the 1996-97 academic year and that only a small number of applicants from the high-income and high-expenditure families might become worse off as a result of the proposed changes. However, he stressed that about 1,360 students who would otherwise be disqualified from receiving any financial assistance under the existing LSFS would become qualified under the improved scheme.

29.Concluding the deliberations, the Chairman urged the Administration to consider members' views in finalising implementation of the improvements to the LSFS.

30.The meeting ended at 12:30 p.m.

Provisional Legislative Council Secretariat
10 December 1997