The government’s fee waiver for the high school diploma exam will have a minimal effect on students’ grades, Financial Secretary Paul Chan has said.

The government will pay the fees for those sitting the Hong Kong Diploma of Secondary Education Examination in 2019. The one-off measure has led to fears that it would attract more experienced exam takers and affect first-time takers’ grades.

But the Hong Kong Examinations and Assessment Authority (HKEAA) has said students’ grades will not be affected by other exam takers.

Paul Chan (right). Photo: GovHK.

Chan’s budget announcement on Wednesday that the government will pay for the exam triggered a flurry of declarations from Facebook users saying they intended to retake the HKDSE as it was free.

Chan was asked on a radio programme on Thursday morning whether the grades of students who depended on the exam to further their studies would suffer from unfair competition.

He said he believed the waiver would only attract a small group of non-students who would not otherwise attempt the exam.

“I can’t rule out the case completely. However, this policy not only benefits students in schools, but also self-study candidates who are not studying in schools,” he said. “It is not a big problem to encourage people to study.”

Students taking Hong Kong Diploma of Secondary Education Examination (DSE). Photo: HKEAA.

The measure was “mainly to express our care for young people,” Chan said.

Education sector lawmaker Ip Kin-yuen voiced opposition to the measure and urged the government to only pay for day school students to take the exam.

He said many teachers and parents – including those who will benefit from the policy – have called him to say they did not want students to face risks of being affected by more experienced exam takers. Adults have attempted to re-take the exam in the past to improve their grades. A certain level of achievement is required in Chinese and English DSE exams for civil servant posts.

Secretary for Education Kevin Yeung posted on Facebook expressing concern that some will take the exam “for fun,” affecting the students.

Kevin Yeung. File Photo: GovHK.

“I sincerely hope everyone will not affect students’ emotions and performance and cause them unnecessary stress over a whim.”

The HKEAA also responded to enquiries from local media by saying that students’ grades would not be negatively impacted because of other exam takers’ performances, as the exam was graded with a standards-referenced reporting system. It added that it would ensure that exam takers receive a fair assessment.

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Kris Cheng

Kris Cheng is a Hong Kong journalist with an interest in local politics. His work has been featured in Washington Post, Public Radio International, Hong Kong Economic Times and others. He has a BSSc in Sociology from the Chinese University of Hong Kong. Kris is HKFP's Editorial Director.