Community Colleges in Hong Kong: Are they helpful or harmful?
When we mention the term “community college,” most of us will naturally relate it to the North American education system. Surprisingly, the Hong Kong government adopted the idea of community colleges in 2000. As Hong Kong’s education system is deeply based on the British model, introducing community colleges has not only been a dramatic change for educators and students, but also a huge mismatch of expectations among different stakeholders.
In North America, the system of community colleges is very well developed and has a long history. It first started in the early years of the twentieth century to cater to the need of the nation’s expanding industries. Community colleges are seen as important higher education institutions. In addition, they have comprehensive articulation arrangements and credit transfer systems between community colleges and nearby four-year institutions. Therefore, students mostly are able to go on to obtain bachelor’s degrees.
In Hong Kong, following the Annual Policy Address from the Chief Executive Tung Chee-Wah in 2000, the government encouraged establishing community colleges as a part of education reforms and life-long learning. It also aimed to have 60% of the senior secondary school leavers receive tertiary education in ten years. In this context, the industry of community colleges has blossomed.
Eight public universities in Hong Kong, one after another, started setting up community colleges under their umbrellas. Most of them have been self-financing. In other words, their income has depended heavily on the numbers of enrolled students. The speed of expansion has been incredible.
At the same time, the concept of community colleges has been a brand new idea to the general public in Hong Kong, partially because the education system has been greatly influenced by the UK model where community colleges are non-existent. Moreover, according to the traditional mindset, merely the top 18% of the post-secondary students are qualified to enter the formal tertiary institutions. Those who cannot proceed to the mainstream universities would be considered to be academically inferior. Choosing the path of community colleges in Hong Kong would be one of the alternatives for students to try to find a way out.
The incorporation of the elements of the American education system into the British one triggered many problems. First, naming the Associate Degree Programs from community colleges as “sub-degree programs” would give a very wrong perception, implying the inferior status of the community college program to the bachelor’s degree programs. The notion would be radically different from the North American system, where community colleges have been considered to be a vital part of its higher education system.
Second, when community colleges were first established, all the parents, students, and educators lacked basic confidence in the Associate Degree Programs. They were unaware of where these diplomas would lead students to. Moreover, the idea of community colleges has not gained recognition from employers who received education in previous decades and had no concept of community colleges. In other words, community colleges created much uncertainty in the society.
Third, as most of the community colleges are self-financed, they appear to use this opportunity to make education a business. Community colleges thus become one example of commercializing education. The more students community colleges enroll, the more profit they earn. In 2012, Lingnan Institute of Further Education and the Community College of Lingnan University admitted 5,300 new students, three times more than the previous year. Among other problems, there were reports of lacking chairs in classrooms. This case caught the attention of the public, leading to the investigation by the Legislative Council. More importantly, however, it shook the foundation of trust in education quality in Hong Kong.
Fourth, an ongoing opening of new community colleges has led to over expansion. A total number of full-time accredited self-financing post-secondary programs jumped from 41 in the 2001/2002 academic year to 199 in the 2004/2005 academic year. It contributed to over supply of post-secondary degrees in Hong Kong, putting the quality of education into question.
Last but not least, the link between community colleges and universities have not been clearly established. Most of the students from community colleges who attempted to transfer into universities have failed to get admission to local tertiary institutions owing to fierce competition and highly selective admission conditions. Even though some overseas universities have recognized the diplomas issued by community colleges in Hong Kong, a large percentage of local students could not afford paying the tuition fee and living expenses. Unfortunately, this group of students would end up facing a dilemma. They could neither have good jobs from employers nor gain access to bachelor’s degree programs.
Clearly, the community college system in Hong Kong needs a complete re-evaluation. Although the government would like to have almost everyone to receive post-secondary education, the solution of the community colleges has generated more difficulties. The implementation of the community colleges in Hong Kong not only failed to capture the essence of the North American community college system, but also has revealed the shortsighted weakness of the HKSAR government.
 Yung, Man Sing (2005). Globalization and sustainability of the community college in the Asia-Pacific region: the case of Hong Kong and the Chinese Mainland. Hong Kong Teachers’ Centre Journal, 4,
 Brawer, F., Cohen, A. & Kisker, C. (2013). The American Community College, 6th ed. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
 Yung, Man Sing (2002). Community College: A new born baby of the Hong Kong education system for the new millennium. Hong Kong Teachers’ Centre Journal, 1, 22.
 Time Out Group Limited (2013, August 27). Hong Kong’s growing shortage of university places. Retrieved March 4, 2014, from http://www.timeout.com.hk/big-smog/features/60578/hong-kongs-growing-shortage-of-university-places.html
 Chong, Dennis (2012, October 17). Lingnan students warn burgeoning numbers threaten education quality. South China Morning Post. Retrieved March 4, 2014, from http://www.scmp.com/news/hong-kong/article/1062640/lingnan-students-warn-burgeoning-numbers-threaten-education-quality
6 Yung, Man Sing (2005). Globalization and sustainability of the community college in the Asia-Pacific region: the case of Hong Kong and the Chinese Mainland. Hong Kong Teachers’ Centre Journal, 4.
7 Yung, Man Sing (2002). Community College: A new born baby of the Hong Kong education system for the new millennium. Hong Kong Teachers’ Centre Journal, 1, 22.