HKU med crunch signals larger malaise

Editorial | Mary Ma 13 Aug 2018

An extraordinarily low admission rate of Diploma of Secondary Education graduates to the University of Hong Kong's Li Ka Shing Faculty of Medicine may point to a concern fundamental to mainstream education.

Faculty dean Gabriel Leung has pledged to keep the ratio of DSE students applying via the Joint University Programs Admissions System to non-JUPAS enrollees at 75 to 25, which is fair as most students follow the DSE curriculum.

Non-DSE students, including those studying for the International Baccalaureate and A-Levels, form a valuable part, but aren't the mainstream.

That DSE graduates are filling less than half of the HKU medical places not only breaches Leung's promise, but also casts a serious doubt on the DSE. Does it mean the DSE has eventually proven to be inferior to IB and A-Levels after so many years of trial?

It's appropriate to refer to medical schools' admissions as the ultimate test as the requirements represent the toughest.

Here lies a serious paradox - on one hand, the DSE produces a far greater number of students than IB and A-Levels combined. However, HKU had to look to the smaller pool of non-DSE students for suitable candidates to fill more than half of its available places this year.

That's a cruel irony, meaning the chance for youngsters to attain top admission standards can be much lower if they follow the DSE program.

If that's the case, Leung shouldn't be blamed for being inflexible, since the medical practice represents rigorous training to keep up patients' health and safety, and it's only right to keep admission criteria at a very high standard to ensure that only those with the right potential receive taxpayers' heavy investment.

Should that be the case, Leung would understandably be unable to speak about it freely, since it would be politically improper to rock the mainstream system. As a dean, he could safeguard the standards quietly and resiliently.

But even that can be a daunting task since the government plans to raise the number of medical students steadily to alleviate the SAR's acute shortage of doctors.

Sadly, that commitment to increasing intakes is complicated by a decline in student population at the same time. While 59,000 students sat for the DSE exam this year, the number is projected to fall to 45,000 by 2020.

The implications are multiple, suggesting it would be even harder for medical schools to select the right candidates from the DSE pool if requirements are not to be compromised. As for HKU, the rise of the Chinese University of Hong Kong's medical school will continue to diminish its available pool.

The question is whether this is really the case. The problem with this is that the DSE is often perceived to be more difficult than IB and A-Levels, and therefore non-JUPAS enrollees aren't necessarily superior to those attaining marginal DSE results.

Only Leung can answer the question. He may deserve a degree of sympathy in face of the government's demand for increased production in doctors when the mainstream is falling behind.

Hong Kong obviously can't rely on its two medical schools alone to cure the shortage of doctors.

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