PTU News Reporter
The ‘Lifelong College incident’ in 2015 revealed that Lifelong College were using fake documents to help students to gain foreign university degrees. The Ombudsman started an investigation on the EDB in regulating non-local courses. It discovered that before the crisis, the EDB has never exercised its power to inspect schools that provide non-local courses. The Ombudsman criticizes the EDB for the serious insufficiency in its current system in monitoring, and suggests that the EDB should strengthen its law enforcement actions and amend the related articles. Fung Wai-wah, President of the HKPTU, agrees with the opinion of the Ombudsman and thinks the EDB should adapt to the suggestions from the Ombudsman and fulfill its legal responsibility to ensure the quality of these courses.
EDB has never inspected the non-local HE courses in 17 years
According to the Non-local Higher and Professional Education (Regulation) Ordinance, all non-local higher and professional education courses should be registered to the Non-local Courses Registry of the Education Bureau. The Ordinance also empower the head of the Registry to authorize inspectors to visit these schools for inspection and document checks to ensure the school fulfills the registration criteria. The Ombudsman discovered that from June 1997 when the Ordinance came into operation, the EDB only conducted such an inspection once in 2015 which is the one for Lifelong College. During the 17 years from 1997 to 2014, not even a single inspection was conducted. It can be seen that the EDB has always been neglecting its responsibility to monitor these non-local courses.
The Ombudsman criticized the EDB for not requiring registered courses to keep students’ records
From September 2016, the EDB requires newly registered courses to keep all the student-related documents (including application forms, credit exemption records, report cards, attendance, records and etc.) safely and can only destroy these documents after two years from the graduation date of the student. This new measure is to allow the EDB to check on the business record of the school when conducting investigations to ensure that no regulation has been violated. For those which did not have a full set of student records, the most serious consequence would be having their registration cancelled. The Ombudsman agrees with these measures, but disagrees with the EDB on not putting the new measure on those courses which are already registered. The Ombudsman suggests that as the Ordinance has already given the EDB the related power, it questions for the reason of the EDB not adding the new measure to those courses which are already registered.
Current monitoring mechanism is seriously inadequate
The Ombudsman criticized the EDB that the current monitoring mechanism is seriously inadequate. An example includes not even the EDB itself knows if there are any courses similar to the ‘Lifelong College incident that violate the Ordinance and if the Ordinance can be used to cancel the registration of the courses. The Ombudsman also criticised the EDB for not amending the monitoring process for these non-local qualification courses, and it has not checked on whether the schools have any counterfeit acts including producing fake or amending related documents. The EDB had also never raided the organizations nor conducted any spot check on the related records and documents of the courses. The Ombudsman described the EDB as passive and that it cannot guarantee the schools are running the courses according to all of the requirements.
Fung Wai-wah urges the EDB to fulfill its legal responsibility
For the current situation, the Ombudsman points out in its report that the EDB should change utterly from its passive law enforcement strategy. It cannot wait until there is suspected violation of rules before asking the schools to provide documents for verification. The EDB should conduct both spot checks on the schools and their documentations, and cross check them with the actual operation to prevent fraudulent activities. On the other hand, the EDB should amend a clear and practical set of law enforcement guidelines to strictly deal with non-local courses and the schools who violate the regulations.