Hong Kong’s university entrance exams will go ahead this month as scheduled, with special arrangements for Covid-positive students and close contacts to sit their tests at the Penny’s Bay isolation centre.

Education Secretary Kevin Yeung announced in a press conference on Monday that the Diploma of Secondary Education (DSE) exams will take place on April 22.

Education Secretary Kevin Yeung address reporters at a press conference on April 4, 2022. Photo: Screenshot, via RTHK.

“Schools agree that as long as everybody, including students, take anti-epidemic measures, this year’s DSE can be carried out safely,” Yeung said.

In February, the Education Bureau said authorities aimed to have the exams begin that day, but that the final decision would be made in early April – with back-up plans for postponement – due to the uncertainty of the city’s Covid-19 outbreak.

Under a compressed schedule, the examination period will run until May 14, although around 60 per cent of students will complete their exams in the first two weeks. Practical assessments for physical education and music will take place in late May to early June.

Students and exam invigilators must take a Covid-19 rapid test on the day of the exams.

A HKDSE examination hall photographed in 2020. Photo: GovHK.

When asked by a reporter whether making the announcement so close to the examination date had caused students to worry, Yeung said authorities had to monitor Covid-19 developments.

“Earlier, two weeks ago when the [daily] were in the tens of thousands, did everyone have the confidence to say the exams can start on April 22? Yesterday, we had 3,000 cases, and we looked at the whole epidemic trend. Today, we say with confidence that the exams can begin on April 22,” Yeung said.

Penny’s Bay arrangements

Authorities will also allow students who test positive for Covid-19 during the exam period, or who are close contacts of Covid patients, to take the assessments at the isolation centre in Penny’s Bay.

Affected students can contact the Hong Kong Examinations and Assessment Authority (HKEAA), which oversees the exams, and inform the body that they are willing to be brought to the facility and to sit their assessments there. Those who choose to do so will be volunteering to be admitted to the quarantine facility according to current isolation requirements.

Penny’s Bay Covid-19 quarantine centre on Lantau. File photo: GovHK.

Taxis from the designated Covid-19 fleet will take the students to the isolation centre, Deputy Secretary for Education Hong Chan Tsui-wah said.

However, students who test positive for Covid-19 or find out they are a close contact on the day of their exam must contact the HKEAA via a designated hotline before 6:30 a.m.

“If a student only does the rapid test and gets a positive result at 7:30 am, then we may not be able to guarantee [the arrangement] because we have practical considerations,” Yeung said. “So we have fixed a time. If the call comes before 6:30 a.m., we are confident we can do it.”

He added that authorities would still “do their best” to “give students a choice [to take the exam at Penny’s Bay].”

File Photo: Hong Kong students wearing masks. Photo: GovHK.

The Penny’s Bay facility has capacity for around 1,000 DSE students, authorities said. Students with special needs will not be accommodated.

Students must also report their infection to the government’s Covid-19 rapid testing platform in order for their case to be verified, though they may do so after their exam if time does not allow.

The plan to allow Covid-positive students to take their exams at Penny’s Bay is a reversal of an earlier announcement that they would be barred from the assessment, and would instead have their grade decided on by teachers based on their school results. The announcement sparked backlash among students as grades would be capped at 5 – two grades down from the maximum 5**.

Similar arrangements allowing Covid-19 close contacts to take the DSE at Penny’s Bay were made last year, when seven students sat their exams at the facility.

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Hillary Leung

Hillary has an interest in social issues and politics. Previously, she reported on Asia broadly - including on Hong Kong's 2019 protests - for TIME Magazine and covered local news at Coconuts Hong Kong.