Responding to the 2018/19 Budget Lack in Commitment, Fundamental Demands Unmet

PTU News Reporter

The 2018-2019 Budget was released last month, and the predicted expenditure on education is estimated to be $113.7 billion in the 2018/19 financial year. Some recommendations made by HKPTU to the government were adopted in the financial budget, including building elevators in school, increasing manpower of special schools. The HKPTU welcomes the government’s adoption of these recommendations, but stresses on the importance of the fundamental demands that are omitted by the financial budget, including offering APSM/GM positions to all primary and secondary school teachers who hold BEd or PGDE qualification. The HKPTU urges the government to make long-term commitments to education, and prioritises the implementation of policies that had been agreed upon among the education sector.

Recurring Expenditure in Education
Hitting A New Low, Dropping to 20.8%

The budget for education expenditure will increase by 28.4% ($25.2 billion) in the coming financial year, amounting to $113.7 billion. Non-recurring expenses will increase significantly from $8.3 billion to $29 billion, totalling to a quarter of all education expenses summed together. Recurring expenditures, on the other hand, will increase by 5.6%, amounting to $84.6 billion, as compared to $80.1 billion in the previous financial year.

Fung Wai Wah, President of the HKPTU, stressed that education is a long-term commitment, in this respect, education expenses should be budgeted as recurring expenses. It is, according to Fung, ineffective and non-sustainable for the government to frequently allocate resources in non-recurring expenses. The recurring expenses in education in proportion to the government’s recurring expenses has also hit a new low, amounting to only 20.8% (as compared to 25% in 1997). The HKPTU expresses our disappointment in such decrease, reflecting a lack of clear focus and commitment from the government concerning education.

Many of the proposed policies mentioned concerning the education sector had been advocated by the HKPTU in the past, these include the implementation of “One Social Worker per School”, launching a pilot-scheme providing social work services for kindergartens and childcare centres, subsidising installations of elevators and air-conditioning units. The government also commits an additional recurrent expenditure of $2 billion (for the purpose of enhancing the professional development of teachers, strengthening support for kindergartens, reviewing and improving integrated education, and supporting schools in enhancing promotion of life-wide learning).

Calling for 1 Social Worker Every 2 to 3 Kindergartens

In response to cases of child abuse in recent months, the government proposed to implement “One School Social Worker per School” policy. The HKPTU is positive about the policy implementation and awaits the drafting of details concerning its establishment. At the same time, the HKPTU urges the authorities to abolish the tendering system of social workers. The Secretary for Labour and Welfare revealed that the Bureau is aiming at a 1:600 social worker to student ratio in kindergartens. Fung stresses that social worker needs time to get to know students, the proposed ratio is underrated, “social workers will not even be able to visit the school one day per week” Fung said. He recommends the social worker to student ratio to be set at 1 social worker tending 2 or 3 kindergartens. In primary schools, the HKPTU advises a 1+1 system, with each school allocates an in-school social worker and a permanent guidance teacher.

Education As The Only Sector Experiencing a Drop in its Ratio to GDP

Education, health and social welfare remains as three major categories in government expenses. Despite education expenses amounting to the most in the government’s recurring expenses in this year’s financial budget, it has seen as slow increase in recent years. The drop in the ratio of education recurring expenses in proportion to GDP, as compared to the increase in health and social welfare recurring expenses in ratio to GDP reflects a lack of commitment from the government in education.

With $1.4 billion of the $5 billion allocated to the education sector by Chief Executive Carrie Lam on top of a newly added $2 billion proposed by the financial budget, there is now a total of $3.4 billion of recurrent expenses funding with undecided use. Lam denies any allegations of leaving funds with undecided use, stating the use of the $3.4 billion will be deciphered once the task forces of the Education Bureau completed the evaluation on the eight education areas. Ip Kin Yuen, Vice President of the HKPTU criticises the delay of funds allocation due to the uses of funding not specified in the financial budget, resulting in all mentioned funding only utilisable in the academic year of 2019/20. Ip urges the Education Bureau to implement projects that had been agreed upon in the education sector.

Details of DSE Fee Waiving Unclear, Demands to Protect School Candidates’ Interests

The financial budget proposed to waive the examination fees of all candidates sitting for the 2019 HKDSE. Ip deems the suggestion itself indending to do good, but sees potential risks brought by a rash decision in waiving examination fees. He is concerned with the possibility of influx of private candidates, causing a disruption to the examination system. Ip urges the government to revise the proposed arrangements without affecting school candidates.