E-mail to Your Friend(s)Print Friendly

Salome Chan on University Financial Administration

Salome Chan
University Bursar

Has the implementation of the four-year undergraduate curriculum had any impact on the University's finances?

The University Grants Committee (UGC) only provides 62.5% of a year's normal funding for the additional year of the new curriculum. So, although we get more money on the whole, we have less money on a per student basis. Furthermore, the UGC has introduced greater competitiveness in allocating research funding. CUHK must improve the quality of its research and enhance its research capacity if it wants to get competitive research grants.

Can you talk about some immediate or medium-term plans?

The Financial Affairs Working Group of the UGC has reviewed the financial status of eight UGC-funded universities and finished a report, making nine recommendations. Their major objective is to ensure that there is no cross-subsidization of UGC resources to non-UGC-funded activities, such as self-financed programmes. We'll implement their recommendations in the next two triennia.

In the immediate or medium term, I want to push for the decentralization of financial systems. Now when a unit of the University spends money, it has to go through a procedure before the outlay can be recorded in its financial system. That takes at least a month. It would be quite annoying not to be able to know your latest balance when making decisions on using your resources. If financial systems can be decentralized, you'll get real-time information.

The investment returns of the endowment funds of top universities in the US are enviable. Is there something we can learn from them?

We've learned from the endowment funds of American universities. We divide our investment into three pools: Pool A, Pool B and Pool C. The investment model of Pool A mirrors those of Yale University. But we only put the money that will be idle for a long time in such high-risk, high-return funds. For Pool B, we let our investment managers invest it in balanced and special investment funds. Pool C is the biggest share. We put it in fixed deposits, bonds, and other fixed rate investment products. If we can get the green light from the University Council, we'll hire an investment manager to take care of hedge funds and our investment will also be increased.

What do you see would be a long-term challenge?

It would be making the best use of our financial resources to make the University more competitive. Accumulating money is not our end, but spending it wisely and helping the University to build capacity. This involves recruiting professors, funding quality research, and facilitating strategic developments.

What is the unique feature of managing the finances of a higher education institution like CUHK?

Businesses have only one goal—the maximization of profits. They don't have many other concerns. But as a tertiary institution, we have a variety of stakeholders, including the government, the Legislative Council, the UGC, and the media. Our finances come under their scrutiny. So whenever we want to make a financial decision, we have to consider it from different angles and put ourselves in different people's shoes. For example, if we want to increase tuition fee, the opinions of students, the public and the media are something to which we must pay heed.

What will you do when you're forced to increase the fee for a service because of rising costs?

We'll try to improve communication with stakeholders. We hope that they would understand that our resources are limited. When one service gets more subsidies, others get fewer.

Can you recall any professor/colleague who impressed you the most?

There are three persons who impressed me most. The first one is Mr. David Gilkes, the second Bursar of the University. He's a kind and amiable gentleman. I was just a small accountant when I first joined CUHK. But he had confidence in me and allowed me to study for my master's degree in the UK.

When I returned after finishing my studies, Mr. Gilkes asked me to join the task force in charge of elaborating a new funding model in response to UGC's change in its funding model. Prof. Liu Pak-wai was the chairman of the task force and I was the secretary. Professor Liu was an experienced administrator who had intimate knowledge of the operation of the University. I benefited a lot from his guidance. So, it can be said that he is my mentor.

The third one is Mr. Terence C.W. Chan, the former Bursar. He is a wise, energetic and unruffled person. He's also very popular and my role model. Without his encouragement and support, I might not have been confident enough to take up the position of Bursar.