Two universities are trying to crack down on “course trading” among students, in which an individual holds a place on a programme and then releases it to a peer for profit, with some popular seats being offered for up to thousands of Hong Kong dollars.
Authorities at City and Polytechnic universities have warned students that engaging in such activities could invite disciplinary actions, while the latter will be rolling out fresh measures this week to prevent course trading.
A check by the Post on social networking app Gööp, used by university students in Hong Kong, found multiple discussions over the trading of courses at the two institutions for monetary gains, ranging between HK$100 (US$12) and HK$2,000.
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Student unions at both universities told the Post on Thursday that the problem, although not new, was more serious now due to a higher demand for courses with students switching to online learning amid the Covid-19 pandemic.
Face-to-face teaching at Hong Kong universities has been suspended since February, and classes will be conducted online when the new academic session begins in September.
“Usually, when students find teachers of certain courses [teaching] better or giving better grades, those courses become more popular when registration opens,” said acting president of CityU’s student union Frank Wong Shing-hang.
He said from his understanding, those who traded courses would wait until past midnight to do the exchange when few people would go online, with the “seller” dropping his or her place from the course and the “buyer” immediately getting it in the system.
For instance, a discussion thread on Gööp showed someone offering HK$2,000 for a “movies and psychology” course, which is one of the “gateway education” courses that students must choose from a list of modules.
In a letter to students on Wednesday, CityU’s office of the provost warned them of disciplinary actions if they engaged in course trading or misused the course registration system, adding that online activities would be “closely monitored”.
But Wong, of CityU’s student union, believed it was unfair to “put all the blame” on students, as one of the major reasons behind the situation was the lack of seats for some courses.
“Fewer people can go on exchange programmes this year [because of the pandemic], which means more students are staying at CityU, increasing the demand for courses.
“Also, more students may choose to register multiple courses for the coming term, as online learning saves time by not requiring [travel to campus]. So, they may want to take up more courses this semester to fulfil their graduation requirements.”
PolyU will roll out new measures from Friday – such as introducing a “random release function” of subject vacancies throughout the course registration process and an add-drop period for programmes – to prevent course trading,
“[Under the new feature], when a student drops out of a subject … the resultant vacancy will not be immediately available to others to add but will only be released after a random period of time,” the university’s academic registry told students in a letter dated August 13.
“The university adopts a zero-tolerance policy towards the ‘trading’ of subject places … Such behaviour brings harm and damage to the learning opportunities of all students as well as the reputation of the university community,” the letter added.
Some Hong Kong universities to still have online learning in place when semester kicks off in September
Morris Chan Ka-hei, president of PolyU’s student union, said the union had conveyed the matter to the university authorities after noticing some online course-trading activities.
“The problem of course trading has existed for quite some time. But previously, the money involved was relatively small and the situation was not as dire,” Chan said, adding online learning had resulted in flexible assessment for some courses, making them more popular among students.
In a reply to the Post, a CityU spokeswoman expressed “deep regret for some students’ misuse” of the online course registration system. The university had been monitoring the situation and would adjust the platform to prevent similar events from happening again, she said.
PolyU said they had not received any formal complaint about improper use of its course registration system, but a spokeswoman added that the university had always ensured adequate supply of programme places for students.
More from South China Morning Post:
- Most Hong Kong universities to resume online classes for coming semester, while officials mull phased reopening of primary, secondary schools
- Coronavirus: some Hong Kong universities to still have online learning in place when semester kicks off in September