Promotion of VPET in Higher Education

In document Executive Summary and List of Recommendations (Page 56-70)

4.1 In tandem with Hong Kong’s development into a knowledge-based and high value-added economy, the market demand for highly skilled and educated talent continues to increase. Pursuant to the Government’s announcement in the 2000 Policy Address to double the secondary school leavers’ post-secondary education participation rate to 60 within ten years, the higher education sector has witnessed a rapid expansion. In view of the students’ growing aspirations to pursue further education, the Task Force considers it essential to reiterate the value and positioning of VPET in higher education. The VPET pathways should be clearly defined and differentiated from the academic route while upholding their parity in terms of both quality and recognition.

4.2 Moreover, young people have to acquire professional work skills, applied knowledge in IT and innovation, as well as critical soft skills for career advancement in the increasingly digitalised workplace. The skill requirements of the industries are constantly changing as technology cycles shorten. VPET institutions should maintain close liaison with industry partners and update their course contents regularly to keep pace with the changing expectations of their students. To better prepare students for employment upon graduation, the Task Force sees merit in stepping up the work-based learning elements in VPET programmes.

Major Views Collected during Public Consultation

4.3 A majority of views received agree that the positioning of VPET in higher education should be strengthened at both the degree and sub-degree levels.

In particular, the VPET routes should be clearly differentiated from the academic ones.

4.4 The respondents agree that at the degree level, the proposed introduction of applied degrees is supported with a primary orientation towards practical skills, which should be differentiated from conventional degrees. Nevertheless, many respondents are not aware of the key features of applied degrees. There are also suggestions that the Task Force should provide


more details of the proposed applied degree to facilitate discussion on its implementation. In this regard, the HKCAAVQ was invited to look into the experiences of implementing vocational degrees/applied degrees in nine economies (namely Australia, Canada, Finland, France, Germany, Mainland China, New Zealand, Singapore, and Switzerland). Some key features of the implementation of vocational/applied degrees identified in the study are discussed in the following paragraphs.

4.5 At the sub-degree level, the respondents concur that the role of HD should be reinforced as a key VPET pathway, and there is merit in conducting a holistic review on the sub-degree education in Hong Kong. During the consultation sessions, some employers expressed concerns over the mismatch in the present job market where many para-professional/technician positions requiring VPET training and knowledge at the sub-degree level (mainly HD programmes) remained unfilled. Some VPET programme providers, as well as teachers and career masters of secondary schools, also expressed the view that the adequate supply of undergraduate-level study places had steered the preference of many secondary school leavers, many of whom aspiring for a UGC-funded university degree, to pursue AD programmes instead of HD programmes. While some industry stakeholders suggested during the consultation sessions the extension of the HD programme from two years to three years in order to better prepare students for employment at the para-professional level after graduation, the stakeholders from institutions had diverse views on the matter, as some feared that such extension might further discourage students from pursuing the VPET pathway. There is also a written suggestion on the introduction of bridging programmes for AD graduates to obtain HD qualifications to provide an additional exit point for AD graduates to pursue the VPET pathway.

4.6 Some respondents point out that regarding the VPET curriculum in higher education, many existing programmes focus on classroom learning, while work-based learning opportunities are limited and their linkage with the core curriculum weak. To respond to the industries’ demand for graduates with applied knowledge and work-based learning experience, they share the view that more well-structured apprenticeship training should be incorporated in the curriculum of VPET programmes. Thus, VPET graduates can be equipped with the requisite professional skills for immediate employment at the technician,


para-professional, or professional levels, depending on the qualifications levels of the programmes. Specifically, some respondents suggest making better use of the TSS implemented by the VTC to expand and develop apprenticeship training. To do so, some respondents advocate for closer partnership with employers to offer industry placement opportunities that are aligned with the curriculum. Moreover, these industry placement opportunities could enrich the all-rounded study experience of VPET programmes, thereby elevating the students’ learning experience to a level on par with that offered by other higher education pathways and attracting more students to pursue VPET.

4.7 Apart from the VTC, the largest statutory VPET provider in Hong Kong, many respondents also recognise the significant roles played by other VPET providers, particularly the self-financing post-secondary institutions, in the development of a comprehensive VPET ecosystem in Hong Kong. As such, they suggest that the Government consider extending its current VPET-related initiatives at the secondary level to encourage other post-secondary institutions to provide more diversified VPET programmes.

Development of Applied Degrees in Hong Kong

4.8 In view of the support for further developing applied degrees in Hong Kong, the Task Force has considered the findings of a study on the international experiences of implementing vocational degrees/applied degrees (the Study) conducted by the HKCAAVQ, which sheds light on the key features of vocational/applied degrees, as well as their implementation in other jurisdictions.

4.9 The Task Force observes that the terms “vocational degrees” and

“applied degrees” are frequently used intuitively in the economies studied, and there are apparently no universal definitions35. When it comes to the features of applied degree programmes, the focus is mainly on three aspects, including the admission of students, the teaching and learning activities, and the learning outcomes of the programmes. The key features of applied degrees identified in the Study are discussed below.

35 The standardised term “applied degrees” is used throughout this report to ensure consistency.


Qualifications Level

4.10 The mainstream comment received during the consultation is that the qualifications for applied degrees should be equivalent to those for conventional academic degrees (i.e. to be pitched at the same QF level), to demonstrate that applied degrees are recognised as “equivalent” to conventional degrees in terms of the qualifications level, though they possess distinctive features to serve different purposes. According to the Study, overseas applied degrees are usually pitched at the same qualifications level (i.e. the QF level) as that for conventional academic degrees (e.g. Germany, France, and Finland).

However, for countries where Bachelor’s degrees and Bachelor’s Honours degrees are pitched at different QF levels (e.g. Australia and New Zealand), applied degrees are pitched at the lower QF level (i.e. the same level as that for Bachelor’s degrees instead of Bachelor’s Honours degrees). Given that all Bachelor’s degree programmes in Hong Kong are pitched at QF Level 5, the Task Force considers that pitching applied degrees at QF Level 5 will be largely in line with practices in the economies studied.

4.11 While the Study also reveals that some overseas economies offer applied degrees up to the Master’s degree level (e.g. Germany, Switzerland, Finland, Australia, and Singapore (to be introduced in 2020)), none of the respondents suggest introducing applied degrees at the Master’s degree level.

As the applied degree is a relatively new concept in Hong Kong and its implementation will be subject to a further study, the Task Force recommends that it will be prudent to study how applied degrees at the Bachelor’s degree level can be further developed, and assess the need for extending it to a higher level at a later stage.

Admission Criteria

4.12 At present, students generally need to attain Level 3 in Chinese Language and English Language, and Level 2 in Mathematics, Liberal Studies and one elective subject in the HKDSE Examination (i.e. “33222”) in order to be considered for admission to first-year-first-degree programmes. While self-accrediting universities may admit students without “33222” or equivalent at their sole discretion, non-self-accrediting post-secondary institutions are subject to a cap of 5 “non-standard entry” admission on a programme basis as required


by the HKCAAVQ36.

4.13 The respondents generally agree that to introduce the proposed applied degree as a meaningful alternative pathway for students to pursue VPET in higher education, more flexible admission requirements should be allowed.

For example, a think tank pointed out in its written submission that adopting the same admission procedures will hamper the ability of institutions offering applied degree programmes to find the right talents. Multiple assessment methods promote integrated learning and reduce the possibility of stigmatisation.

The Study also shows that for overseas applied degrees, recognition of prior learning and/or field-related experience is often taken into account, in addition to academic achievements, during admission. To enable students with more diverse backgrounds and abilities to attain higher qualifications, apart from academic results, recognition of other equivalent qualifications and experiences (e.g. skills-based competence and achievements, working experience, etc.) would be considered. In fact, a robust mechanism that recognises work experiences and competence acquired by practitioners at the workplace is already in place in Hong Kong. Underpinned by the QF, assessments under the Recognition of Prior Learning (RPL) mechanism are quality-assured and assigned QF levels to facilitate professional progression and continuing education.

4.14 The Task Force recommends that the Government consider ways to encourage non-self-accrediting post-secondary institutions to identify relevant vocational qualifications that can be considered as equivalent to meeting the minimum requirements for admission to first-year-first-degree programmes in consultation with the HKCAAVQ. More collaboration with the relevant authorities would also be required to facilitate the accreditation of programmes and enhance the assessment of students’ learning outcomes. To facilitate the wider recognition of alternative qualifications, the Task Force recommends that the Government explore the possibility of relaxing the 5 cap of “non-standard entry” for non-self-accrediting post-secondary institutions to offer applied degree programmes in the future.

36 “Non-standard entry” refers to the admission route that the applicants do not meet the minimum admission requirements. From the perspective of quality assurance, a reasonable quota has to be imposed to control the variation of students’ overall abilities so as not to negatively affect the quality of teaching and learning.


Mode of Teaching and Learning

4.15 A majority of the views received agree that practical learning with industrial attachment is an essential element of applied degrees. The Study also shows that a distinctive feature of teaching and learning design of overseas applied degrees is the emphasis on real-world training and application. In particular, practical on-the-job learning is required for all applied degree programmes in Finland and Singapore. This aligns with the positioning of applied degree programmes to cultivate mastery of the field of practice, rather than development of cognitive abilities or deepening of knowledge.

4.16 Regarding the recognition of applied degrees, many respondents, in particular representatives from the industries, consider it essential for the qualification to be well-recognised by professional bodies and employers of the industries. It is also reflected in the Study that most applied degrees overseas are supported by or delivered in close collaboration with industries, such that graduates are work-ready in the specialised profession. For example, in France, in addition to work placement schemes, employers may also be involved in curriculum design as well as in programme delivery (a certain proportion of programmes are delivered by non-academic staff such as industry/enterprise professionals).

4.17 The Task Force considers that strong industry involvement, in areas including programme design and assessment methods, is key to the development of applied degrees in Hong Kong. With reference to the international practices, institutions should work closely with industries in the curriculum design and delivery of programmes to provide substantial internships and work-based learning experience to students. A dual-track mode deeply integrating work-based learning elements into the curriculum will have to be adopted.

Areas of Study to be covered

4.18 While the respondents generally agree that applied degrees should meet market needs, there was not much deliberation during the consultation period on what areas of study should be covered by the proposed applied degree. The Study shows that applied degrees overseas cover a wide range of subjects


depending on the economy and market needs in different places, and the area of study may not be the primary consideration in determining what qualifies as an applied degree. For example, applied degrees in Germany cover agronomy, forestry, public administration, social work, information technology, design, nursing, etc. In Singapore, applied degrees target growth sectors that have a strong demand for skilled labour (e.g. engineering, information and communications technology, health and social sciences, etc.).

4.19 In Hong Kong, the Government has introduced the SSSDP to provide a subsidy for students to pursue designated full-time self-financing undergraduate programmes in ten selected disciplines, with a view to nurturing talent for industries with keen human resources demand. While the disciplines selected under the SSSDP may be a reference point for determining the areas of study for further developing applied degrees in the future, the Task Force considers that further deliberation will be required, taking into account the features of applied degrees (e.g. practice-oriented curriculum and work-based learning) and the anticipated outcomes (e.g. manpower needs in specific areas).

Operators to offer Applied Degrees

4.20 There are mixed views on the types of operators to offer applied degrees.

A number of submissions suggest that the programmes should be offered by different post-secondary institutions to allow a wide diversity of choices.

While some institutions suggest stepping up Government support for the self-financing post-secondary education sector to play a more proactive role in promoting VPET in higher education, including the operation of the proposed applied degree programmes, diverse views have been received from other stakeholders. Some suggest that applied degrees should be provided by the VTC as the largest VPET provider in Hong Kong, or by the UGC-funded universities by increasing the number of senior year places in view of their existing resources and expertise for developing academic degrees.

4.21 According to the Study, there is no standard practice among different economies on the types of institutions offering applied degrees. Applied degrees overseas may be offered by comprehensive universities that offer both academic degrees and applied degrees; universities of applied sciences that focus on offering applied degrees; as well as vocational institutes that offer a wide


range of vocational training at different levels.

4.22 Given the diverse views received and the varied overseas practices, the Task Force considers it more prudent to conduct further studies and stakeholder engagement before deciding which operators are able and should develop and offer applied degrees in Hong Kong. Yet, the Task Force considers that it is important to develop the comparative advantages of applied degrees such that more institutions will be incentivised to offer similar programmes.

The Task Force’s Recommendations

4.23 Noting the key features of applied degrees and their implementation in other economies, the Task Force observes that there are plenty of degree programmes in Hong Kong in the same disciplines as those covered by applied degrees in other economies (e.g. healthcare, engineering, etc.). However, the structure, mode of teaching and learning, and admission criteria of the vocationally-oriented degree programmes in Hong Kong are basically the same as those of other academically-focused programmes. The Task Force recommends that the Government develop applied degrees in Hong Kong with an applied focus, and they should have the following distinct and prominent features that would differentiate them from other degree programmes –

(a) the qualifications should be equivalent to those of conventional academic degrees (i.e. to be pitched at QF Level 5);

(b) a more flexible admission requirement should be adopted. Apart from academic results, other relevant factors (e.g. skills-based competence and achievements, working experience, etc.) should also be considered;

(c) applied degree programmes should have an applied focus blending theory and practice, provide substantial internships and work-based learning experience, and prepare graduates for a specific trade/industry, though they can also support articulation to other qualifications; and (d) there must be strong industry involvement in the development of

applied degrees with trade recognition.


4.24 In view of the international practices, the Task Force recommends that the Government pursue a pilot project to test out the practical issues involved in the development of applied degree programmes with the above features. The project will enable the Government to further explore, in close liaison with stakeholders, the mode of operation and other implementation details of the proposed applied degree, including but not limited to the areas of study to be covered, operators to offer the degree, assessment methods, funding mode, programme structure, duration of study, award titles, etc. The project can also provide more information on how the current higher education system (including but not limited to the accreditation of and admission to post-secondary programmes) can be modified to facilitate the development of applied degrees in Hong Kong in the future. The Government should also consider providing incentives and facilitation for industries to play a more active role in developing applied degrees and recognising the exit qualifications.

Reinforcement of the Role of HD as a Key VPET Pathway

4.25 The Task Force sees a need to reinforce the role of HD as a key VPET pathway at the post-secondary level, formulating a clear distinction between HD and AD as two sub-degree qualifications leading to vocational and academic degrees respectively.

4.26 At present, the minimum entrance requirements for AD and HD are the same. Students generally need to attain Level 2 in five HKDSE subjects including Chinese Language and English Language (i.e. “22222”), and each applicant is allowed to use not more than two ApL subjects in the application.

There are also a number of diploma programmes which are recognised by individual post-secondary institutions as meeting the requirement of “22222”, such as DYJ, DFS, DVE, etc. Applicants falling short of the minimum entrance requirements or other acceptable equivalent qualifications can be admitted on special considerations but should not account for more than 5 of the total intake on a programme basis, and not more than 3 on an institutional basis. The Task Force considers that the Government should review the minimum entrance requirements for HD, for example, to take into consideration other vocational qualifications, skills-based competence and achievements,


working experience, etc.

4.27 As regards the structure and curriculum of HD programmes, the Task Force supports enhancing HD to provide more work experience opportunities with longer duration (e.g. industrial attachment for a few months) for students to acquire practical skills in the workplace. The Task Force also considers that the Government should formulate more robust policies to encourage, coordinate, support, and facilitate the post-secondary education sector, including the self-financing post-secondary institutions, to offer HD programmes in close partnership with industries to equip students with professional work skills and applied knowledge in specialised fields, especially in industries with keen or growing manpower demand. Moreover, the Task Force emphasises the importance of soft skills, working attitudes, and vocational language skills in HD education, and suggests that HD programmes should provide better training in respect of vocational and essential non-technical skills required for employment at the para-professional level, such as adaptability, collaboration, creative thinking, communication skills, etc.

4.28 The Task Force notes that the Government has accepted the report submitted by the Task Force on Review of Self-financing Post-secondary Education, led by Professor Anthony CHEUNG. Among other follow-up actions, the Government will conduct a more focused study to review and improve the structure and curriculum of sub-degree education to reflect the respective refined positioning of AD and HD within the higher education sector in Hong Kong. The Task Force supports a holistic review of sub-degree education to better differentiate the HD from the AD qualification.

4.29 In particular, the Task Force recommends that the review comprehensively cover the following matters in relation to the HD –

(a) the positioning of HD in the VPET pathway in the education system;

(b) enhancement to the programme structure and curriculum with an emphasis on both technical skills and essential soft skills to be developed in close partnership with industries, taking into account the interfacing with the proposed applied degree programmes to facilitate articulation;

In document Executive Summary and List of Recommendations (Page 56-70)

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