Letter from The Education Bureau (“EDB”) dated 9thMarch 2020 (“the EDB Letter”)
The German Swiss International School received the EDB Letter dated 9th March in relation to the operations of the Business College (“BC”). By that letter, the EDB ordered GSIS to cease operation of the vocational training courses provided by the BC. Out of consideration for the welfare of the BC students, the EDB is prepared to allow BC students to complete the 2019/2020 school year at our Pok Fu Lam campus, but has made clear that such exceptional treatment should not be taken as the EDB’s endorsement of the operation of the BC providing post-secondary education. The EDB ordered GSIS in no uncertain terms, to cease operating the BC immediately after the 2019/2020 academic year. The EDB has come to the conclusion after a lengthy investigation that, in operating the BC, GSIS has been providing post-secondary education without the registration and approval required from the Permanent Secretary for Education under s18A(1) of the Education Ordinance.
Here is a link to a letter our Supervisor sent to our community on 11th March 2020 in relation to this matter.
Since 1984, GSIS has been running the BC. The first time the EDB was informed of the BC was in 2002 and the EDB was given to understand by the then Supervisor that such vocational training was part of the German Stream.
In fact, the BC has been running a vocational programme as a service provider for the German Industry and Commerce Ltd (GIC), an affiliate of the German Chamber of Commerce, in which students spend 1.5 days per week in class at GSIS and the remaining 3.5 days at a trainee company.
The EDB has found that the programme offered through the BC is post-secondary education. It bases this finding on facts including that students at the BC enter the programme with an upper-secondary diploma (Abitur) or even with a post-secondary degree (Bachelor’s) in hand, are in some cases well over 20 years of age and can receive credit for their BC education from various universities and other post-secondary institutions articulate into higher years
GIC Letter dated 11 March 2020 (“GIC Letter”) and Statement dated 18 March 2020 (“GIC Statement”)
Following the EDB Letter, the GIC issued a letter and a statement respectively dated 11th March 2020 and 18th March 2020, both of them containing incorrect/misleading information which is very regrettable.
As far as we are aware, as early as May 2018, the EDB contacted GSIS raising queries about the status of the BC. Whereas many Board members at the time suggested that guidance should be sought from the EDB as to whether the BC was offering secondary or post-secondary education, a “Business College Task Force” was appointed. The working of the “Business College Task Force” was not transparent to all Board members or even to all members of the Task Force nor was the subsequent communication with the EDB. A letter sent to the EDB in June 2018 by the then Supervisor was not first provided to the Board for discussion or approval, and the present Supervisor only recently learnt of its existence.
In the said letter sent to the EDB in June 2018, the then Supervisor assured the EDB that university collaborations and university credits would not continue and that the programmes conducted by the BC “remain(ed) strictly part of the secondary education”. Despite this statement, some Business College students who subsequently graduated in 2018 and 2019 received credit from universities and were articulated into higher years with 18 months to 2 years of credit. It has also been discovered recently that university collaboration and university credits always remained in place.
The statements in the EDB Letter that there had been “blatant disregard of the provisions of the Education Ordinance as well as the Service Agreement” and “deliberate concealment of the true nature of the education provided by the Business College from the EDB, which is entirely unacceptable” are in relation to the period prior to March 2019 and the information provided by the then Supervisor.
After March 2019, the EDB continued with their investigation into the BC. The school truthfully provided all information requested by the EDB.
Contrary to the GIC Letter and GIC Statement:
- The EDB never “reclassified from secondary to post-secondary” the level of education provided by the BC. In fact, the classification of education provided by the BC as post-secondary on 9thMarch 2020 was the only classification ever done by the EDB.
- The information provided by GSIS to the EDB after March 2019 has been truthful and in response to the very specific enquiry that the EDB directed to the school. The EDB specifically made known its appreciation for such honesty.
- Whilst GIC claims in its statement that it has a “transparent relationship” with the EDB, GSIS has not been informed of what transpired at a “personal meeting at a very senior level” with the EDB nor its outcome on this matter that significantly concerns GSIS. More importantly, the EDB has not further contacted GSIS or reversed its order to cease operating programmes run by the BC after this school year. Hence, GSIS will follow, as it must, the instructions issued by the EDB stated clearly in their letter of 9thMarch 2020. As GSIS has not been included in the aforementioned meeting, one can only assume that GIC is exploring avenues for their programmes to be operated in a place where there is the required licence to do so, rather than at GSIS. If this can be achieved, it would indeed be in the best interest of the BC students. Their interests are clearly not served when placed in a school that has not been licenced to operate programmes for which they are studying.
- The average age of the current BC1 students at the start of school year (1st September 2019) was 19.4 and for the current BC2 (1st September 2019) was 19.9. The average age at the start of school year of BC students since 2014 was 19.6 years, with the oldest student starting at 27 years of age. As of 31stMarch, 2020, the average age of the current BC1 students will be 20 and of the BC2 students 21.4. Before attending the BC, all BC students had completed Abitur or equivalent and some already had work experience. As can be seen from the GSIS yearbooks and was pointed out in the EDB Letter, some BC students had completed university education and achieved Bachelor’s degrees from universities in Hong Kong or abroad before attending the BC. Many graduates from the BC have been given 18-24 months of credit by universities in various countries. That an 18-month credit is given by some universities has been advertised by GSIS and there were/are agreements entered into by GSIS with universities to enable BC students to be so articulated to higher years for Bachelor’s degrees.
For the avoidance of doubt, the GIC Letter was issued without the approval or prior knowledge of GSIS and should not be mistaken for representing our views on this matter.
As we all know, the law must be fully complied with. GSIS has over 1,200 students and hundreds of staff. It is not in the interest of the school, nor of any student or staff for the law to be broken. In the case of the BC students, it is especially not in their interest that the programme in which they are enrolled has not been approved by the regulatory Bureau. We must all be very grateful that the EDB will allow BC2 students to finish their current year such that they graduate. At all times, we have the best interests of our students at heart and we will try to support the students in any way we can. We will work in close collaboration with GIC to explore any opportunities or avenues with other institutions to ensure our 2nd Year programme continues with another educational establishment. The Board and GSIS hope that BC1 students will find options for their further development and proceed to a bright future.