Regulations on Non-local Courses Needs Enhancement

PTU News Reporter

Reports from a newspaper last month revealed that the dissertation of Dr Herdip Singh, Lingnan’s former Associate Vice-President and Comptroller, for his doctorate degree obtained in 2013 in Tarlac State University was a highly match for a 2010 dissertation of a master degree graduate of Lund University in Sweden. Amid claims of plagiarism triggered after the news reports, Singh resigned from his positions of Lingnan University. It was also reported that Singh’ s PhD had been awarded by the University in the Philippines through a referral by a private school called Lifelong College, and we wonder whether the regulation on the intermediaries of non-local courses is sufficient. We urge the Education Bureau (EDB) to look into the case and review the concerned ordinances as soon as possible.

Singh who was accused of plagiarism has served Lingnan University since 1981. Singh studied a PhD program of Tarlac State University through a referral of Lifelong College, and the PhD was awarded in 2013. With reference to the website of Lifelong College, the Tarlac State University requires PhD students to submit a dissertation and sit for an oral defense revoked. So surprisingly a reporter found that Singh’s dissertation was a highly match for another dissertation received in Lund University of Sweden, where both contents, methodology, viewpoints and even flow of arguments are very similar. The reporter sent an enquiry with Singh’s dissertation attached to the supervisor of the dissertation in Sweden, who admitted that Singh had probably plagiarized concerning his dissertation.

Staff of Lifelong College accused of making forged documents

Disguised as an university lecturer, a reporter told the staff of Lifelong College that he wanted to obtain PhD degree as soon as possible. The staff replied that studying in Tarlac would be the quickest way to obtain a PhD. The staff further explained that they could issue an admission letter to certify that the reporter had been admitted in December 2014 and claimed that due to the negligence the admission procedure had been delayed. Through this process, the students’ PhD can be fast-tracked from a three-year study period to one-and-a-half year. By this process Lifelong College was probably making forged documents to deceive Tarlac into awarding the degree.

It was also revealed on their official website that Lifelong College was founded by Dr Lee Ye-lick who is a member of Council and Court of Lingnan University. Press reported that two of Dr Lee’s academic transcripts were even undersigned by himself as the Principal and program director of Lifelong College. Lee replied that he had already reported to the concerned University that he was student, Principal and program director of the College.

EDB must ensure courses’ quality

According to the ordinance, programs of those non-local institutions, like those provided by Lifelong College, have to be registered with the EDB and can only be opened after the approval of the Non-local Course Registry (NCR). The EDB has indicated that 13 non-local programs currently provided by Lifelong College are registered with the NCR. And with reference to the Non-Local Higher and Professional Education (Regulation) Ordinance, the Registrar of NCR will approve the registration of a course only when the Registrar believes that the course is recognized by a non-local institution and effective measures are in place to ensure that the standard of the course offered are maintained. On the contrary, if the Registrar thinks that the course is no longer recognized or its standard cannot be maintained, its registration can be revoked. Ip Kin-yuen, our HKPTU’s Legco representative, thinks that the current registration procedure is too simple to ensure the quality of programs. The case of Lifelong College reflects that the concerned programs have already been out of standard and the EDB is fully responsible for investigating this incident according to the law.

According to the written reply from the Secretary for Education to Legco on 2 Dec, the EDB has asked the Lifelong College for information pursuant to the Ordinance. Actions taken include issuing a letter to the Lifelong College and sending inspection officers to the College. Suspected contraventions of the requirements of Ordinance, if found, will be handled by the EDB in accordance with the established procedures.

“Registered” is not equivalent to “Recognized”

There are currently 108 registered program providers offering more than 466 non-local courses, from the level of sub-degree to doctorate degree. The advertisements of the courses would probably state that the courses are ”registered with the EDB” to attract more students. However, under the existing ordinance, operators who intend to have their non-local courses registered are not required to obtain recognition from relevant local academic or professional organizations for the academic or professional qualifications of the courses concerned, or to apply to the Hong Kong Council for Accreditation of Academic and Vocational Qualification (HKCAAVQ) for program accreditation. Therefore, “being registered” does not mean that the qualifications would be recognized by the Government or employers, which can be a trap for further studies.

According to the Secretary for Education, of the 1198 registered and exempted non-local courses, 143 have been accredited by the HKCAAVQ and placed on the Qualifications Register. We can imagine that if applicants don’t choose their course carefully, they will take risk of spending a lot of time and money on those non-recognized qualifications. Therefore, we urge the EDB to review the law and registration procedures as soon as possible so that our local students could have more protection. Moreover, the EDB should supervise more effectively the registration of those non-local courses to ensure that their quality can be maintained and prevent the incident of Lifelong College from happening again.