You are hereTransition from Elite to Mass: Higher Education in Hong Kong
Transition from Elite to Mass: Higher Education in Hong Kong
by Shengping Guo
Like other developed areas across the globe, in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region of the People’s Republic of China, higher education has seen a significant investment of manpower and financial resources by the government. In 2002, the eight universities funded by the University Grants Committee received grants of 19.7 billion Hong Kong dollars at a cost of 1.46 per cent of Hong Kong GDP. Higher education in Hong Kong entered a so-called “Mass” era in 1990s.
As milestones, the establishments of the three main universities, the University of Hong Kong (HKU, 香港大學), The Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK, 香港中文大學), and The Hong Kong University of Science and Technology (HKUST, 香港科技大學), indicate that the history of higher education in Hong Kong may be divided into four main periods. (1) Sprouting Period (1887-1911), from the founding of the Hong Kong College of Medicine to its amalgamation with the HKU. (2) Building and Rebuilding Period (1912-1963), from the opening of the HKU via Japanese invasion to the CUHK’s foundation. (3) Developing Period (1964-1993), including the establishment of the HKUST and the end of Elite era. (4) The Mass Era (1994- ). Based on the concepts of Martin Trow, the 1993/94 academic year should be seen as the turning point in the higher education of Hong Kong from the Elite era to Mass era, when the student enrolment of first-year-first-degree places as a percentage of average population in the age 17-20 groups reached 15.7 per cent.
Higher education refers an educational level that follows the completion of a secondary education, such as an education at the level of high school or secondary school. It normally includes undergraduate, postgraduate, and vocational education. Higher education is provided at colleges, universities, academies, seminaries, and institutes of technology or vocation to award academic degrees or professional certification. The right to higher education was confirmed in the ‘International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights’ (ICESCR) of the United Nations. Article 13 of ICESCR states that ”higher education shall be made equally accessible to all, on the basis of capacity, by every appropriate means, and in particular by the progressive introduction of free education.”1
In the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (Hong Kong SAR) of the People’s Republic of China (PRC), like other developed areas, higher education has seen a significant investment of manpower by the government. In 2002, the eight universities funded by the University Grants Committee (UGC) received around 19.7 billion Hong Kong dollar grants at a cost of 1.46 per cent of the gross domestic product (GDP) of Hong Kong (Yung Wan Sing, 2002).2 In those eight institutes during the 2002/2003 academic year, 68,825 degree students enrolled in various programmes, and the first-year-first-degree students rate reached 17.7 per cent of the average population in the 17-20 year old age groups (UGC, 2002/03).3 Higher education in Hong Kong had entered a so-called ‘mass’ era (Trow, 1974).4
The main emphasis of this paper will be placed on the development of higher education in Hong Kong since 1887. As milestones, the establishment of the three main universities, the University of Hong Kong (HKU, 香港大學), The Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK, 香港中文大學), and The Hong Kong University of Science and Technology (HKUST, 香港科技大學), indicate that the history of higher education in Hong Kong may be divided into four main periods.
Sprouting Period (1887-1911): From the Establishment of the Hong Kong College of Medicine to Its Amalgamation with the UHK
When Hong Kong was ceded to the British crown by the Qing emperor in 1842, at the end of the First Opium War, it was ‘a barren island with hardly a house upon it’ (Lord Palmerston, cited in Luk, 1991),5 and only about 4000 farmers and fish folk scattered among small villages and moorings (Luk, Bernard, 2011). 6 In the early years of the colonial free port, only a few Christian missionaries were involved in education.
Formal higher education began in Hong Kong in 1862, when the colonial government officially opened the Central College, later called Queen’s College, which used English as the principal language of instruction (Yung Wan Sing, 2002).7 The first higher educational institute in Hong Kong was the junior normal school, founded by a British citizen, Mr. A. J. May, in 1881 for training Chinese as English teachers; though it admitted just ten students and operated only three years (Yung Wan Sing, 2002).8 It was forced to close because governor Sir John Pope Hennessy did not report on time to the Colonial Office of the United Kingdom and thus did not get the British grant.
The first important higher education institute in Hong Kong was the ‘Hong Kong College of Medicine for Chinese’ founded by the London Missionary Society Foundation in 1887 (To, 1965).9 The lawyer and doctor Dr. Ho Kai, an influential figure in Hong Kong history, donated all fees for the establishment of the college. The College met the rising demand for training in medicine, which could not be met by sending students to universities elsewhere. In 1907, as increasing numbers of students enrolled with nationalities other than Chinese, the College was renamed the Hong Kong College of Medicine, with the elimination of the words ‘for Chinese’ (To, 1965).10
The College’s scale was small in its early years. Its administrative structure was adopted from the pattern of British universities. The majority of the instructors were British and therefore the language of instruction was English in all classes. After the entrance examination, in which English was included as a compulsory subject, thirty qualified students were admitted during the College’s first five years, and among them were twelve in 1887 (Yung Wan Sing, 2002).11
The College was merged with HKU in 1911, and became its Faculty of Medicine. Between 1887 and 1911 the College operating independently, and there were 128 graduates (Yung Wan Sing, 2002),12 who provided tremendous medical service to the early Hong Kong society. Some of them later even became great figures in Chinese history, including the eminent ‘father of nation’, Dr. Sun Yat-sen, the founder of the Republic of China (To, 1965).13
Higher education in Hong Kong both sprouted at eventually ended with the normal school, but finally emerged as the Hong Kong College of Medicine, which was intricately tied to in the health of the community. This fact reflected the attention to education and medical treatment among the missionary community.
Building and Rebuilding Period (1912-1963): The Opening of HKU, the Japanese Invasion, and the Establishment of the CUHK
When the Hong Kong College of Medicine was formally founded in 1887, there were around 150 000 people on the island (Yung Wan Sing, 2002).14 After twenty years of development, Hong Kong had become an international business port, and its population increased to 300 000 (Yung Wan Sing, 2002).15 Based on the demand of businesses in the area and the interest of the United Kingdom in the Far East, founding a British-style university to foster bilingual talent seemed to be necessary for the following reasons. First of all, the British government desired to secure its imperial relations with China by opening a university, and to balance the various Western powers in China; namely, the Americans who helped establish Tsinghua College in Peiking, and the Germans, who were planning a university in Kiaochow. Secondly, the demand for university education in China was growing. In 1910 an estimated 5,174 Chinese students were attending universities in Japan, and 400 were in Britain and the USA (Hui Kwok Fai, 2004) .16 Thirdly, the British rapidly expanded its higher education system beyond Oxford and Cambridge by establishing seven civic universities, the so-called ‘red bricks’, which focused on industry and business (Yung Wan Sing, 2002).17 Fourthly, the Hong Kong colonial government and church organizations had built more than thirty secondary schools in which English was the language of instruction (Yung Wan Sing, 2002).18
Sir Frederick Lugard, the Governor of Hong Kong from 1907 to 1912, was a central advocate of HKU. Lugard suggested merging the Hong Kong College of Medicine and the Technical Institute to form a university. The HKU ordinance was passed by the Legislative Council in 1911, and the university was officially opened on February 11, 1912 (Hui Kwok Fai, 2004) .19 The Sinologist Sir C. Eliot was the first vice-chancellor and president of the university, the oldest British university in the Far East.
As a member of the Association of Commonwealth Universities, the HKU was organized typically like the University of Birmingham. A Court was set up as the supreme governing unit, and a Senate was elected to control and supervise the curriculum. The Governor of Hong Kong was ex-officio chancellor and chairman of the court, and the colony’s director of education became a member of the Senate.
The new university began with fifty-four students, a skeleton faculty, and very little money and equipment (To, 1965). 20 At the first commencement in December 1916, twenty-three graduates, all males, eight in medicine, twelve in engineering, and three in arts, were presented for degrees (To, 1965). 21 The enrolment of students increased to 364 in 1933, and to approximately 600 in December 1941, when the University was forced to close on the eve of the Japanese invasion (To, 1965).22 After World War II, HKU reopened in 1948. Within three years, HKU’s enrolment reached its pre-war level.
Relating to the issue of the right of higher education, women and the poor had been discriminated within the Chinese community. In 1921, ten years after its establishment, HKU began to admit the first female students to its Department of Teacher Training. In 1941, there were about 120 women at the University, with one in five students being female (To, 1965).23 In addition, professors and lecturers in the early years were almost all British, the teaching language was English, and the tuition and accommodation fees were extremely expensive, such that most of the students were considered to be ‘aristocracy,’ with excellent English skills, top academic performance, and from wealthy families. The characteristics of elitist education were therefore extremely obvious at HKU.
The establishment of the PRC in mainland China in 1949 had two major consequences in Hong Kong. On the one hand, the population of Hong Kong increased from 1.5 million in 1947 to 2.2 million in 1950, and the governmental resources were largely used to fulfill the more emergent demands of new refugees for massive housing, medicine, and schooling under the undergraduate level (Yung Wan Sing, 2002).24 On the other hand, the influx of a large number of college students and teachers from China to the colony led to an increase in the demand, and subsequently supply, of the Chinese higher education. But the needs of provision for the refugee students and from the large number of Hong Kong Chinese high school graduates could not possibly be satisfied by HKU. Thus, in the middle to late 1950s registered Chinese colleges appeared on a massive scale to fulfill the scarcity of the higher education in Hong Kong. Finally, in 1959 the Government announced that it had in mind the eventual establishment of a new university in which Chinese would be the principal medium of instruction, and that the selected colleges would be combined on a federal basis and be given financial assistance by the government in order to let them improve their standards.
The selected colleges to be financed by government were the New Asia College, Chung Chi College, and United College. The new university was titled the Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK). The CUHK ordinance was passed by the Legislative Council in September 1963, and the university was officially opened on October 17, 1963. At the time of CUHK’s formation, it had approximately 1,200 students (To, 1965).25 Together the CUHK and HKU provided one per cent student enrolment of first-year-first-degree of the average population of those aged 17-20 in 1963; so higher education in Hong Kong was at that time still considered a form of ‘elitism’ (Luk, Bernard H. K., 2011). 26
Developing Period (1964-1993): The Establishment of the HKUST and the End of Elite Higher Education
The higher education in Hong Kong developed very slowly in the 1960s and 1970s, while the quantity and quality of secondary education improved very fast. By 1971, total secondary enrolments had reached 231,000 (Crawford, 1995).27 Among them, the percentage of Form Five students admitted into matriculation Form Six classes in secondary day schools remained at 35% (Crawford, 1995).28 In 1969, of the 7,500 students who sat for the university entrance examination, 3,700 passed, but only 1,351 were admitted to first-year courses at HKU and the CUHK in October 1970, owing to the serious shortage of places (Crawford, 1995).29
In the 1960s the only new development in Hong Kong higher education was the registration of Lingnan College by the government. The predecessor of Lingnan College was Lingnan University (LU), the famous Christian university founded in Canton, China by the American Presbyterian (North) Council in 1889. In 1967, the alumni of LU founded the Lingnan Education Expansion Council, and began to organise Lingnan College in Hong Kong. In its formative years, the school only provided preparatory form education and non-degree programmes.
In early 1970, the government approved Hong Kong Baptist College (HKBC) as a post-secondary college. HKBC was founded in 1956 by the Baptist Convention of Hong Kong with the support of American Baptists. In 1957, 132 students enrolled in the college, which offered a four-year programme with biblical knowledge as a compulsory subject for all year one and year three students (Hui Kwok Fai, 2004) .30 The student number rose to 623 in 1959/60, and had the greatest enrolment among all private full-time post-secondary institutions at that time (Hui Kwok Fai, 2004) .31 However, the Hong Kong governmental financial grants were withheld until 1979, when the college accepted its proposal to restructure HKBC’s five-year academic programme to the ‘2+2+1’ system outlined in the White Paper on Senior Secondary and Tertiary Education in 1978.
In 1970, the population of Hong Kong reached to 3.8 million, while its economy got to a flying start under the influence of the service industry and technological development (Yung Wan Sing, 2002).32 To adapt to the new situation the government formally established The Hong Kong Polytechnic (HKP) in August 1972, taking over the campus and staff of the Hong Kong Technical College. HKP’s mandate was to provide professionally-oriented education to satisfy the manpower needs of industry and business. HKP started the era of the ‘binary system’ in the history of Hong Kong higher education. The two systems were the existing degree system in HKU and CUHK, and the non-degree system which provided diplomas and advanced diplomas in technical and practical programmes.
In the 1980s, the influential Report of the Committee to Review Post-Secondary and Technical Education (Topley Report《陶建报告书》) profoundly affected the development of higher education in Hong Kong as follows (Yung Wan Sing, 2002).33 First, in 1982 the Vocational Training Council was established by the government to replace the Hong Kong Training Council. Second, the City Polytechnic of Hong Kong was founded as the second polytechnic and began to provide non-degree courses in 1984, while Hong Kong Baptist College became a UGC-funded tertiary institute. Third, the Hong Kong Academy for Performing Arts was established in 1984 as both an academic institution and a venue for performances. Fourth, the Hong Kong Polytechnic and the City Polytechnic of Hong Kong began to provide degree programmes to students after the qualified evaluation by Council for National Academic Awards. Finally, in 1986, the CUHK announced its plan of establishing the Department of Engineering.
Higher education in the middle and late 1980s witnessed rapid development in Hong Kong. In 1989, the Government adopted the suggestions of the Llewelyn Report and the Education Commission Report No.2, to officially grant the operation of the Open Learning Institute of Hong Kong, the first institute offering open and distant higher education in the city. The new-style institute provided distant and flexible further education opportunities for adults.
Most importantly, in the late 1980s the government anticipated a strong demand for university graduates in Hong Kong to face the strong competition in the technology and management sectors from other Asian countries, and thus the goal of establishing a new university was announced. The task of conceiving an internationally competitive university was finished by Sir Chung Sze Yuen and the Governor of Hong Kong, Sir Edward Youde. The construction began at the former British garrison Kohima Camp in Tai Po Tsai on the Clear Water Bay Peninsula. Finally, The Hong Kong University of Science and Technology (HKUST) opened its doors and enrolled its first students in 1991.
The speedy development of Hong Kong higher education in late 1980s and early 1990s was based on several factors. First, it was the need of higher education from parents and students who were deeply influenced by Confucianism and believed higher education can change ones life and make social mobility possible in the global economy. Second, the 1989 Tiananmen Square Protest in Beijing led to instable political perspectives among some people in Hong Kong. According to statistics, in 1989 there were 65,000 people who left Hong Kong, including more than 10,000 professionals (Yung Wan Sing, 2002).34 The trend of big scale immigration changed the structure of the labour market and perspectives on the economy, culture, and social formations. Third, the policies of the Hong Kong government were affected by the anticipated change of regime in 1997 according to the Joint Declaration. Many plans had been enacted faster and were pushed forward based on the Topley Report. Finally, the practice of expanding higher education in all industrial societies after World War II indirectly influenced Hong Kong.
The Mass Higher Education Era (1994- )
The higher education system of Hong Kong transformed its model from ‘elite’ to ‘mass’ in the 1990s. According to Martin Trow (1974), 35 a higher education system which enrolled the first-year-first-degree students up to 15 per cent of the age group was defined as an elite system, one between 15 and 40 per cent as mass system, and one above 40 per cent as a universal system. Based on this concept, the 1993/94 academic year should be seen as the turning point in the higher education style of Hong Kong from an Elite era to a Mass era, when the student enrolment of first-year-first-degree places as a percentage of the average population of those aged 17-20 reached 15.7 per cent (UGC, 1993/94).36
The expansion of Hong Kong higher education in the 1990s mainly included the following. First, an increase in the places of degree programmes in HKU, CUHK, and HKUST, and an increase in the percentage of degree programmes in the existing programmes of Hong Kong Polytechnic, City Polytechnic of Hong Kong, and Hong Kong Baptist College. Second, according to the suggestion of the Education Commission Report No.3, the CUHK’s degree system was changed from a four-year to a three-year one, unifying all UGC-funded institutes on the year of its issue. Third, the Hong Kong Council for Academic Accreditation (HKCAA) was established to evaluate the academic quality of higher education institutes. In 1993 and 1994, Hong Kong Polytechnic, City Polytechnic of Hong Kong, and the Hong Kong Baptist College passed the evaluation and were promoted to the status of ‘University’. Forth, Lingnan College obtained the UGC fund in 1991 and had been promoted to the status of university in 1999, after the HKCAA’s evaluation. The Open Learning Institute of Hong Kong became a self-accredited institute in 1996 and changed its name to The Open University of Hong Kong in 1997.
Teacher training made new developments in the 1990s. Under the suggestion of the Education Commission Report No.5, on April 25, 1994, The Hong Kong Institute of Education (HKIEd) was formally established by the merger of the following five teacher training colleges: The Northcote College of Education, The Grantham College of Education, The Sir Robert Black College of Education, The Hong Kong Technical Teachers’ College, and The Institute of Language in Education. HKIEd became the only one dedicated to professional teacher education in Hong Kong and one of the eight subsidised tertiary institutes under the UGC in 1996. In October 1997, the institute moved to its new campus near the Tai Po Industrial Estate.
In conclusion, higher education in Hong Kong had made tremendous progress from 1887, the year the twelve elitists were admitted by the Hong Kong College of Medicine, to 1994, the year the Mass era began. As a meeting place of Westerners and Easterners, Hong Kong experienced the rule of British colonists, the invasion of Japanese imperialists, and the 1997 change of sovereignty. The PRC establishment and the Tiananmen Square Protest also extremely affected its development. Today, Hong Kong’s higher education remains on the dominant system of the UK, and English remains the medium of instruction in most institutions. The ideals of ICESCR, that ‘higher education shall be made equally accessible to all’ and that there should be ‘free education’, are extremely popular among the people of Hong Kong. Even though the greater achievement depends on many factors, some of which cannot be easily predicted, the Universal system can still be expected to remain in the future.
I would like to thank Professor Bernard Luk of York University, Canada for his guidance, Doctor Yeow- Tong Chia and Doctor Candidate Kirk Perris, both at the OISE, University of Toronto for their comments, and the organizers of the “Education and Global Cultural Dialogue Conference: A Tribute to Dr. Ruth Hayhoe” held on May 6, 2011. I would also like to thank Dr. Karen Mundy, Dr. Qiang Zha, and Dr. Yeow-Tong Chia for organizing the academic activity.
1. “International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights,” Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Right, accessed March 15, 2011, http://www2.ohchr.org/english/law/cescr.htm.
2. Yung Man Sing (容万城), “Preface,” in Higher Education in Hong Kong: Policy and Principles (《香港高等教育：政策与理念》) (Hong Kong: Joint Publishing (H.K.) Co. Ltd., 2002), VII.
3. “Student Enrolment (Full-time Equivalent) of UGC-funded Programmes by Institution and Level of Study, 2002/03 to 2008/09,” University Grants Committee, Accessed May 9, 2011, http://cdcf.ugc.edu.hk/cdcf/searchStatisticReport.do.
4. Martin Trow, “Problems in the Transition from Elite to Mass Higher Education,” in Policies for Higher Education (Paris: Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, 1974).
5. Bernard Hung-kay Luk, “Chinese Culture in Hong Kong Curriculum: Heritage and Colonialism,” Comparative Education Review 35 (1991): 652.
6. Bernard Luk, “Hong Kong and Its People,” in HIST 3775.03 History of Hong Kong, ed. Bernard Luk (Toronto: York University, 2011), 1-7.
7. Yung Man Sing (容万城), “Chapter 1: The Development of Higher Education in Hong Kong,” in Higher Education in Hong Kong: Policy and Principles (《香港高等教育：政策与理念》) (Hong Kong: Joint Publishing (H.K.) Co. Ltd., 2002), 1-2.
9. Cho-Yee To, “The Development of Higher Education in Hong Kong,” Comparative Education Review 9 (1965): 74-75.
11. Yung Man Sing (容万城), “Chapter 1,” 3.
13. Cho-Yee To, 74-75.
14. Yung Man Sing (容万城), “Chapter 1,” 3.
15. Ibid, 4.
16. Philip Hui Kwok Fai and Helen Poon Lai Man, “Higher Education, Imperialism and Colonial Transition,” in Education and Society in Hong Kong and Macao: Comparative Perspectives on Continuing and Change, ed. Mark Bray and Ramsey Koo (Hong Kong: Kluwer Academic Publishers, 2004), 115.
17. Yung Man Sing (容万城), “Chapter 1,” 5.
19. Philip Hui Kwok Fai, 115.
20. Cho-Yee To, 75-76.
21, 22, 23. Ibid.
24. Yung Man Sing (容万城), “Chapter 1,” 6-9.
25. Cho-Yee To, 76-79.
26. Bernard H. K. Luk, “Schooling and Social Change in Hong Kong, 1950s to 1980s,” in HIST 3775.03 History of Hong Kong, ed. Bernard Luk (Toronto: York University, 2011), 344-347.
27. Lanchlan Crawford, “The Development of secondary education in Hong Kong, 1945-71,” History of Education 24 (1995): 121.
28, 29. Ibid.
30. Philip Hui Kwok Fai, 121-124.
32. Yung Man Sing (容万城), “Chapter 1,” 14.
33. Ibid, 14-18.
34. Ibid, 20.
35. Martin Trow, “Problems in the Transition from Elite to Mass Higher Education,” in Policies for Higher Education (Paris: Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, 1974).
36. “Student Enrolment of First-year-first-degree (FYFD) Places of UGC-funded Programmes, 1965/66 to 2009/10,” University Grants Committee, last modified June 2010, http://cdcf.ugc.edu.hk/cdcf/searchStatisticReport.do;jsessionid=2DA3A014....