Money talks in HK education - but not to this degree

Top News | Sophie Hui and AFP 14 Mar 2019

Hong Kong parents may be able to put their children into elite schools by making donations to the school - but would have great difficulty putting them into top universities like their American counterparts.

This is the view of an education consultant in Hong Kong in the wake of the American scandal over rich and famous people in the United States buying places in top universities for their children.

The comments come after Desperate Housewives star Felicity Huffman and fellow Hollywood actress Lori Loughlin were among 50 people - including chief executives, financiers, the chairman of a prominent law firm, a winemaker and a fashion designer - indicted for allegedly cheating in admissions tests and arranging for bribes to get their children into prestigious schools including Yale, Stanford, Georgetown and the University of Southern California.

The founder and senior adviser of Campion College Consultancy, Martin Campion, says he has never heard about parents from Hong Kong using similar malpractice, "but money plays a part."

Campion was surprised by the scandal and feared that "it's just the tip of the iceberg."

"Although I've never experienced direct bribery, I have had 'legacy' applicants whose family had donated large sums to a particular college and who were then given an advantage in an "all else being equal situation" in terms of grades etc," he said.

"That would shock many non-Americans but it is an accepted and, in some ways, understandable feature of college finances.

"The bigger picture is, of course, the idea that top colleges exclude those of more modest means and are a type of club for the wealthy who feel that they have a pre-ordained right to send their children there.

"This then gains them entry to the club of investment banks and the like, perpetuating the cycle of privilege."

Ivan Chan Fung-sun, project manager in education consultancy Litz USA Student Service, said it is hard for Hong Kong parents to put their children into top universities by cheating on admission exams and profile, but some have asked about making donations.

"Some parents have asked if we can add some achievements in the profile, but we told them it cannot be fabricated, and we rejected such requests," he said, adding such cheating behavior is prohibited in United States.

"Some have asked about making donations, but we never helped a student to get into the school by such a way."

Chan said students are encouraged to practice more and join more competitions and activities to make their profiles look better.

He added that many athletes in Hong Kong have good achievements, and it is hard to forge the results as there are competition records.

He also said parents in Hong Kong have integrity and they believed it is unfeasible to cheat on the SAT college admission test. Chan said the SAT exam will take place in Hong Kong four times a year in AsiaWorld-Expo.

He said the exam arrangement in Hong Kong is strict, and invigilators mark the candidate's number and report if they find something suspicious in the exam.

He said they will also check the candidate's admission form and identity documents.

The accused in the US paid a bogus charity run by Californian William Rick Singer millions both to arrange for people to fix SAT and ACT entrance exams for their children, and also to bribe university administrators and sports coaches to recruit their children, even when the children were not qualified to play university-level sport.

Huffman, 56, and Loughlin, the 54-year-old star of Full House, were among 33 parents accused of conspiracy to commit fraud in joining the scheme.

Loughlin's fashion designer husband, Mossimo Giannulli, was also on the list.

Four people accused of running the scam and 13 officials associated with university sports and the testing system have also been charged.

The payments ranged from US$200,000 (HK$1.57 million) to US$6.5 million, according to Andrew Lelling, the US attorney in Boston, Massachusetts, where the case was filed.

"Wealthy parents paid Singer about US$25 million in total," Lelling said.

Coaches, including the women's soccer coach at Yale University and the sailing coach at Stanford University, took between US$200,000 and US$400,000 to accept the students on their teams.

None of the universities or the companies who run the tests were implicated, and none of the students involved were charged.

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