PTU News Reporter
The current government does not care about public opinion and disregards education. Although the HKPTU has been fighting for an increase in educational resources for years, the current government still does nothing and so the urges from the sector has never been addressed. Up until the Chief Executive election this year, the 30+ election committee members of the HKPTU have finally succeeded in asking all three candidates to add our urges on education to their manifestos. Carrie LAM proposed an additional 5 billion dollars of concurrent appropriation which focuses on but not limited to the following six areas: (i) Establishing a pay scale for kindergarten teachers; (ii) Improving the staffing establishment of primary and secondary school teachers; (iii) Converting short-term contract teaching posts to permanent ones; (iv) Enhancing support for integrated education and special education; (v) Upgrading the hardware and software provided for schools; (vi) Granting financial aid to secondary school graduates to enable them to pursue degree courses in self-financing tertiary institutions; and exploring the feasibility of flexible repayment arrangements for newly graduated students of tertiary institutions to reduce their burden in paying back tuition loans. These all align with the propositions of the HKPTU.
After the Chief Executive election, the next step would be urging the government to live up to its promise. However, the approval process of the 5 billion additional appropriation is very complicated and is still facing hardships and changes. IP Kin-yuen, Legislative Councillor of the HKPTU, said ithout the help of the current government, it will be extremely difficult for the new government, which starts its term of office on 1st July, to complete the approval process within just two weeks before the end of the current legislative year. This has never happened in the history of the Council.?
IP Kin-yuen described the HKPTU is currently paying its greatest effort to achieve the following three objectives.
Firstly, the HKPTU is asking for consensus from the different stakeholders of the education sector on items that are most urgent and can be achieved in the short term. Secondly, the Union is communicating with different educational organisations and the government to obtain consent. And to build on this, we are incubating consensus in the Legislative Council by asking lawmakers from different parties to agree and support the new appropriation. We wish to speed up the approval process within the Council procedure, for example having an exemption on the period for notification in raising the bill and having extra meetings. IP hopes that after getting consensus from all the parties, the appropriation can be approved in one go.
Government should subsidise self-financed courses
Carrie LAM agreed during her campaign that the government should increase the amount of subsidisation to self-financed courses. Besides allowing the operation environment of self-financed courses to be more stabilised, subsidisation from the government can also ease the financial load of students. The HKPTU has repeatedly emphasised on this particular issue, and hopes that Carrie LAM will live up to her promises as soon as she comes into office.
There are about 12,000 DSE students who are qualified for undergraduate degree courses. Since there are not enough government subsidised places, they need to study in self-financed courses or even fail to continue their education. The HKPTU urges the new government to increase the number of subsidised degree places and subsidise self-financed courses at the same time to ensure Hong Kong has enough talents for its social development in the future.
Investment environment has worsen and the government should take a greater load
Besides the above, the Financial Secretary Paul CHAN Mo-Po announced that since there is a 18 billion dollars in surplus from the last financial year, this whole amount would be left for educational use. Uses will include but not exclusive to increasing the amount of resources for academic research in the tertiary sector. The current government only reserves this 18 billion as a lump-sum expense which does not help to promote any long term measures such as increasing the number of research staff in universities. IP Kin-yuen had a meeting with the representatives from the Research Grant Council (RGC) at the end of April. The representative from the RGC explained that the Council invests about 23 billion dollars in the Exchange Fund, and the interest received is used on sponsoring the research work of local scholars. This item of investment had 5% or even 6% of rate of return in the past. But as the investment environment has worsened in recent years, the return of the Exchange Fund also drops. In 2014, the return was only 3.6%. As the rate of return drops, the operation of the RGC has become more difficult and unfavourable to the local research development.
Comparing with other developed countries, Hong Kong has never given enough resources to scientific research. Scientific research resources in other countries amount to roughly 2-3% of GDP, but this figure in Hong Kong is less than 1%. IP Kin-yuen hopes that the 18 billion dollars reserve can have part of it injected to the RGC to ensure research works of scholars will not be affected by the worsening of the investment environment. On the other hand, an amount should be allocated to allow universities to build student halls, and to improve the school environment of primary and secondary schools, and etc.