The Hong Kong Academy for Performing Arts has been criticised by the Audit Commission for its low student enrolment, dwindling attendance rates at governing council meetings, poor utilisation of its venues and its failure to return unspent funds to reserves. It also noted that the publicly funded school reduced the scope of an expansion project after construction funds were approved by the Legislative Council.

The Audit Commission report, released on Wednesday, said that the school had seen enrolment shortfalls since 2012, with local students filling only 85 percent of the 2015/16 enrolment target of 825.

HKAPA. Photo: Google Maps.

The report also observed that two Council members who had low attendance rates were reappointed for another term, and that some council committees had low overall attendance rates. However, from 2011 to 2015 the overall attendance rates at meetings of the Council and its committees were generally above 70 percent.

Funds not returned 

In addition, the report said that there were cases whereby unspent funds totalling HK$18 million were not returned to the reserve. An earlier overview of the school’s finances showed that in the financial year 2014-15, the HKAPA received a government subvention of HK$309 million. It has a total income of HK$467 million, and, with a total expenditure of HK$437 million, a surplus of HK$30 million was recorded.

See also: Arts academy silent over HK$1m harassment case payout as student union urges more accountability

HKAPA. Photo: Google Maps.

Low utilisation of venues

Although the HKAPA said in its records that there was an acute shortage of teaching space, the report noted that there was a low utilisation rate of some teaching venues – 32 percent to 79 percent at the Wanchai Campus, and as low as 3 percent for some venues at the school’s Bethanie Campus. The utilisation of its performance venues, which could be hired by outside parties when not used for teaching, was also low, with the rate ranging from 50 to 94 percent at the Wanchai Campus.

The Audit Commission’s findings come two weeks after the HKAPA rejected a request by students to host a talk on “methods of resistance” featuring pro-independence speakers. The school said the venue was “not available“.

Expansion project changes after LegCo funding approval

The Commission also found that there were changes made to a campus expansion project that received HK$444.8 million of funds approved by the Legislative Council. The project’s completion date remains two years behind schedule, and the returned tender prices of the project were higher than the approved project estimates, which the Financial Services and the Treasury Bureau said was highly undesirable.

The project’s scope was also reduced, with the original total construction floor area of 10,889 square metres to be reduced by about 10 percent. However, as of February 2016, the Home Affairs Bureau had not informed the Legislative Council of the project’s delay or its reduction in scope.

Karen is a journalist and writer covering politics and legal affairs in Hong Kong for HKFP. She has also written features on human rights, public space, regional legal developments, social and grassroots activism, and arts & culture. She is a BA and LLB graduate from the University of Hong Kong.