Slow approach wise for Hong Kong university fee rise

Education secretary says the 27-year freeze on university fees will end soon, but plans to gradually adjust them to minimise the impact on city residents

The government’s ballooning budget deficits have spurred a wide-ranging review of services to help balance the books. From water tariffs and medical bills to tuition fees and sport facilities, the public is preparing to dig deeper into their pockets as economic uncertainties take a heavy toll on Hong Kong’s fiscal health.

While the prolonged freeze on many charges makes a case for increases, public affordability must come first.

The pledge by Secretary for Education Christine Choi Yuk-lin to proceed with university fee adjustments gradually is to be welcomed. “We will not aggressively increase the fees in one go,” she said, adding that the impact on citizens also would be considered.

Given education is as much a social investment as a basic right, tuition adjustments must therefore not solely be driven by the user pay principle. However, this does not mean there is no room for increases.

Currently, undergraduates at the eight universities pay HK$42,100 (US $5,400) annually, an amount that has been frozen for 27 years. The cost recovery rate slipped from 18 per cent in the 2012-13 financial year to 13.3 per cent in 2022-23, according to the University Grants Committee.

Non-local students pay fees between HK$140,000 and HK$171,000 a year at present, with non-local admissions capped by a quota which will gradually double to 40 per cent under a government initiative last year. As with the planned fee increases for local students, reviews for non-local students are also justified.

There have been calls for a holistic approach, taking into account adjustments in the levels and repayment period for loans for students in need as well. They should be seriously considered before making any decision.

Unlike other public services, officials have decided there is no need to achieve a specific “cost recovery” target for education fees. That would help prevent students and families from being weighed down by hefty increases.

Article source : SCMP

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