What caused the immense shortages of dormitory?

IP Kin Yuen

Chief Executive Carrie LAM proposed to replace the current practice of passing bills individually in the Finance Committee of the Legislative Council by establishing a 12-billion Hostel Development Fund in her Policy Address, simplifying procedures in supporting the University Grant Committee (UGC) to subsidize the building of students’ dormitories in universities. This is undoubtedly a welcoming news in the post-secondary education sector, but the question remains: what are the reasons to the constant shortages of dormitory vacancies? Was it due to the meticulous Legislative Council procedures, or was it an internal error made by the government?

Short of over 10,000 vacancies

Apart from its functional purpose in making travelling to school easier, students’ dormitories are also an integral part of university life, providing students the opportunity to interact with others in a collective social setting, serving as a crucial aspect of non-formal education. According to current government policies, all students reading undergraduate programs in UGC-funded universities are entitled to the opportunity of at least one year of living in university dormitories in their period of study; and all students reading post-graduate programs, non-local students and students reading undergraduate programs spending more than 4 hours in travelling are also entitled to dormitory vacancies. Under this principle, there is a growing shortage in funded dormitory spaces.

Documents submitted to the Legislative Council by the government show that in the 2016/17 academic year, dormitory vacancies of all UGC-funded universities amount to 29,206 units; while the additional demands surge from 8,350 units in the 2014/15 academic year to 12,203 units in the 2016/17 academic year.

Sluggish approvals by the LEUNG Chung-ying government

I was approached by Presidents of university on the issue of insufficient dormitory vacancies. In fact, there are lands assigned for the building of university dormitories, with relevant designs all promptly prepared. The City University of Hong Kong, for example, had already been assigned land at Ma On Shan for the purpose of building students’ dormitories providing 2,168 vacancies. The project had undergone consultation in the Sha Tin District Council and the Town Planning Board. However, no submissions on the project until now was made by the government to the Legislative Council. The records have shown no attempts from the Legislative Council in preventing the building projects of university dormitories, all bills on the funding the construction projects submitted to the Education Panel of the Legislative Council are carried without obstructions in the Finance Committee.

Where are the obstructions then? Shocking discoveries are found when looking back at the records of the Legislative Council in the past 20 years. Since 1997, the TUNG Chee-Hwa government were the most progressive, funding a total of 10,380 new vacancies; Donald TSANG’s government had also funded 7,171 vacancies. The LEUNG Chun-ying government, were the most inactive, funding only 676 new vacancies, amounting to only 6.5% and 9.4% of vacancies funded during TUNG’s and TSANG’s office terms. The scale of increase in vacancies during LEUNG’s office terms is undoubtedly a disappointment.

 Legislative Council procedures should not be interpreted as obstruction

Proposals were made in the latest Policy Address to establish a Hostel Development fund, replacing the current practice of submitting individuals bills for approval in the Finance Committee of the Legislative Council, hence simplifying the approval procedures of funding in the Legislative Council. The change in the mode of approving funding are worth a thorough discussion and contemplation in both the Legislative Council and in the society. However, the above statistics suggests that the shortage of dormitory vacancies stems not from meticulous Council procedures, but from whether the government prioritizes the issue of dormitory vacancy shortage, and whether the government had requested for funding in time.

In the past few years, I have demanded for the government to increase university dormitory vacancies in various occasions. In the recently published Forecast on Education Policies in 2017 Policy Address, I have suggested the government to utilize the 18 billion one-time funding reserved by the Secretary of Finance Paul CHAN for the education sector to fund construction projects of university dormitories. The government had made positive attempts in directly responding to the demands of the education sector by addressing the issue in the Policy Address, bridging the immense gap resulting from the inactive governance of the LEUNG’s government. I hereby welcome the attempts and responses made by the government in this respect.