A teacher employed at a government-subsidised primary school has been asked to repay HK$200,000 (US$25,800) in salary after authorities found the degree he had earned from the University of Hong Kong did not qualify him for the job.
The teacher, who graduated with a double bachelor’s degree in education and social sciences last year and took up the job in February this year, was told months later that the HKU qualification was not registered under the primary teacher training programme. He was told he was only qualified to take up graduate teaching jobs at secondary schools.
He said previous promotion materials and documents at HKU had claimed that the five-year degree programme would qualify him to be a teacher of liberal studies and humanities-related subjects at the city’s secondary and primary schools.
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“I felt HKU was misleading, which kind of lured me into choosing their programme in 2014,” said the teacher, in his 20s, who wanted to remain anonymous.
He said before his employment started in February as an assistant primary school master – a junior graduate-level teaching position – at a subsidised primary school, both he and the school’s principal had called HKU to reconfirm his degree qualification.
An HKU staff member had at that time said his degree qualified him to take up the job, he said.
But education officials notified the school principal in May that following a routine salary verification process, the teacher’s double degree at HKU was found to be insufficient for him to be employed in his full-time graduate teaching position.
“When I checked again with HKU in June, the university issued a letter to prove that I had indeed completed the curriculum and was qualified to teach in both primary and secondary schools. But the Education Bureau did not accept the explanation,” he said.
As a result, the subsidised school was asked by the bureau to pay back his full salaries – amounting to HK$200,000 between February and July, despite the teacher having fully performed his duties over the six-month period.
He believed the responsibility should not fall on him and his school, as he urged HKU to take up responsibility to repay his salaries.
HKU should bear most responsibility in this case
Ip Kin-yuen, vice-president, Professional Teachers’ Union
Vice-president of the Professional Teachers’ Union Ip Kin-yuen, who had been helping the teacher with the case, suspected some sort of mishandling was involved at HKU as the university failed to register the programme under primary teacher training qualifications since its introduction in 2012.
The previous claims of the university that graduates from the double degree programme were qualified to teach at primary schools would normally mean they could be employed for graduate-level jobs at government or subsidised schools, he said, which did not turn out to be the case.
“HKU should bear most responsibility in this case,” Ip said.
He added that as part of a major policy change last year to enhance teachers’ professional capacity, all new teaching posts at government-subsidised schools must be graduate posts, requiring applicants to possess a local degree with proper teacher training.
That means all graduates under HKU’s double degree programme would not be able to take up graduate teaching jobs at most primary schools from 2019, he said.
The degree programme, jointly run by HKU’s education and social sciences faculties, only admitted a small cohort of about 10 students each year. Some graduates also went on to work in the government or at non-governmental organisations.
If I only wanted to become a teaching assistant, a substitute teacher or teach at a private school, there was no need to major in the double degree programme because any university degree would qualify me to do so
A check by the Post found that HKU’s promotional documents this year did indicate that those who successfully completed the programme would not be able to take up graduate teaching jobs at subsidised primary schools, but similar materials in 2014 and 2017 did not make any such mentions.
A spokesman for the bureau told the Post that HKU did not register the double degree programme under primary teacher training qualifications, while adding that officials would continue to follow up with the university, the teacher and his school over the case.
In a reply, HKU only said it was “concerned” about the teacher’s situation and had already communicated with his school and the bureau over the matter.
“There are recent graduates who are currently teaching in secondary or primary schools. Their actual appointments depend on the recruitment procedures and funding sources of individual schools,” a spokeswoman for the university’s education faculty said.
The teacher believed HKU’s reply meant while those who completed the course were unable to take up graduate-level jobs at subsidised primary schools, they could still be employed in other alternative positions such as that of a substitute teacher or teaching assistant.
“HKU’s remarks were unreasonable,” he said. “If I only wanted to become a teaching assistant, a substitute teacher or teach at a private school, there was no need to major in the double degree programme because any university degree would qualify me to do so.”
He said his school now offered him a different teaching post on contract with his salary paid by the institution, meaning he would not enjoy the benefits of a graduate position. He was also considering taking up a two-year postgraduate diploma programme in education in primary teaching on a part-time basis as he still wanted to teach at primary schools in future.
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