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Boldly going on their own
John Brennan
update on Saturday, July 23, 2011
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You don't need a BSc in mathematics to see that the figures don't quite add up. "This year, there are at least 18,000 students who are qualified to study on degree programmes, but the University Grants Committee (UGC) can only provide 15,000 places," according to Professor Thomas K S Wong, president of Tung Wah College (TWC) - the new self-financing, post-secondary college that opens its doors to students for the first time in September.

Another self-financing tertiary institute that hopes to help make up the shortfall is Hang Seng Management College (HSMC), whose first batch of undergraduates completed their first year this summer.

Professor Gilbert Fong Chee-fun, HSMC provost, is realistic about what they can initially offer and whom this will attract. "We cannot compete with the UGC, publicly-funded institutions - they've got lots of money," he says. "So we're getting the second rung of students who could not get into a UGC institution, or were given a place but didn't like the programme."

Wong takes a similar view of TWC's likely intake. "We're looking at the top 75 percentile students," he says.

But neither Fong nor Wong are lacking in ambition for their colleges. Fong says in the next few years, HSMC wants to be "from second to first choice" of students.

To make this leap, the privately funded institutes will have to raise and generate the resources themselves. "We have to find our own funds and rely on students' tuition fees and seek external donations," says Wong.

Their tuition fees are higher than those charged by the subsidised UGC institutions. For example, TWC charges HK$66,000 a year for its bachelor of business administration (BBA) programme - almost the same at HSMC - versus an average of around HK$42,000 for local students at subsidised universities.

But this doesn't seem to have deterred applicants. "We were granted the post-secondary [college] status by the Executive Council at the end of May last year and then we started recruiting students in a hurry," says Fong. "It was quite a hairy situation. But we were surprised - actually our places were oversubscribed."

TWC is expecting a wave of applicants at the end of this month, after the UGC institutions decide whom they will admit.

"Even before then, we already have over 100 applicants for our places," says Wong. "On past experience, this is a good sign."

This September, HSMC adds a journalism and communication degree course to its already existing BBA, and BAs in supply chain management and in translation with business. Fong says that while teaching business courses is nothing new, HSMC wants to produce "gentlemanly businessmen".

In its first year, TWC will be offering a BBA with three majors - accounting, finance and marketing. But this course will place an emphasis on working with non-profit organisations that help the disadvantaged, vulnerable and minority groups.

"In time, we want to offer more degree courses, particularly in the areas of education, health and social welfare, because these are traditionally at the core of the Tung Wah Group of Hospitals activities," says Wong, referring to TWC's charitable mother entity.

The task of building teaching faculties at HSMC and TWC seems to be going well.

"All our newly-hired degree programme teachers have university teaching experience and many have PhDs," says Fong. "I think we have the best teachers among the translation programmes in Hong Kong." 

HSMC's ambitious expansion is meant to offer more degree courses and accept a greater number of students. It has 610 undergraduates but aims to build this figure to 3,500. "Our goal is to become a first-rate management university," says Fong.

Over at TWC, Wong says they are focusing on their first steps. "We're not too concerned about whether we're called a university or a college. We want to focus on improving the quality of education we offer."

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