To address the pressing issue of acute shortage of dormitory places in our universities, Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor announced in her recent policy address that the administration will set up a HK$12 billion “hostel development fund”.
The decision is a piece of good news to members of the higher education sector which has been complaining about the scarcity of dormitory places for many years.
According to official statistics, in the academic year of 2016/17, there were only 29,206 hostel places across the eight local tertiary institutions funded by the University Grants Committee, This is short by 10,203 places, up from 8,350 places in 2014/15 and suggests that the gap between supply and demand for accommodation places across our universities has been continuing to widen.
And that automatically begs the question: what is the underlying cause of the shortage?
As I was told by several local university presidents, they already have their land and construction plans ready for building new dormitories. For instance, a hostel project of the City University of Hong Kong in Whitehead in Ma On Shan had the green light from the Sha Tin District Council and the Town Planning Board in 2014.
However, according to them, the reason many of their construction projects have remained stalled is that the government has been dragging its feet over the related funding requests to the Legislative Council Financial Committee.
That explains why even though our legislature has never stood in the way of any request for public money to build more university dormitories made by the administration, construction progress has remained slow over the years.
If we refer to the Legco record on funding approvals over the past 20 years, we can see that during the term of former chief executive Tung Chee-hwa, Legco approved funding for a total of 10,380 new university hostel places. Then when Donald Tsang Yum-kuen was in office, Legco gave the go-ahead to another 7,171.
However, that number was down dramatically to only 676 between 2012 and 2017 when Leung Chun-ying was in office.
I agree that Chief Executive Carrie Lam’s proposal to streamline the existing funding approval procedure for building new university dormitories by setting up the hostel development fund is worth discussing. I believe it is also important for members of the public to take note of the fact that government inaction is mainly to blame for the current acute shortage of accommodation places on our university campuses.
This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Oct 30
Translation by Alan Lee
[Chinese version 中文版]
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