The government has tightened the rules on who qualifies for free entry to Hong Kong’s most important student exam, amending a policy first unveiled in last month’s budget.
Only school students will benefit from the exam fee waiver, to stop people taking the Diploma of Secondary Education (DSE) exam – whose results determine university admissions – for fun or to make mischief.
Financial Secretary Paul Chan Mo-po said during his 2018-19 budget speech that the government would cover fees for candidates sitting the 2019 DSE.
As part of efforts to share a larger-than-expected HK$138 billion surplus for the last financial year, officials set aside HK$180 million to pay the fees.
Justifying the decision to tighten the criteria, Education Secretary Kevin Yeung Yun-hung said he wanted to stop opportunistic mature students and “pranksters” taking advantage at the expense of the latest batch of pupils.
“I think it will not be in the best interest of the students [to have the waiver open to all],” said Yeung, who discussed the changes with the city’s exam administrators. “I think the proposal that we now make is to provide a very stable environment so that candidates can perform at their best in the examination.”
The Hong Kong Examinations and Assessment Authority, which administers public exams, said it would finalise administrative details as soon as possible. It promised to ensure a smooth DSE in 2019 and a fair assessment for all students.
Almost 60,000 people registered for the DSE assessment, its administering body said. Of this total, 51,675 were school candidates. This was down from 61,624 candidates last year and 68,128 in 2016. The rest of the applicants were private candidates.
Hong Kong is one of the few places that charges students for exams. The cost varies from HK$414 (US$53) to HK$619 per subject.
Each student spends almost HK$3,000 for the full exam. One typically takes six subjects, including English and Chinese languages, mathematics, liberal studies and two electives.
Education sector lawmaker Ip Kin-yuen backed the rule changes, saying there was genuine worry among candidates and parents that the free entry would be abused.
“For school candidates, it is the right decision to pay the exam fees,” Ip said. “But actually I think this should be made a regular subsidy and become part of a 15-year free education policy.”