MU Connect issue 4 (page 10 to 11)

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Three decades of dedication to inmate education

The large number of young people arrested during the 2019 social unrest has brought a new wave of attention to the rehabilitation of offenders through education. Seeing that many convicts are university students who may not be able to continue with their original study programmes, HKMU signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the Correctional Services Department (CSD) on 24 October to provide those in custody with more comprehensive support for their studies. In addition to offering enhanced financial assistance, the new agreement allows students with the required qualifications to continue their tertiary education by credit transfer and programme articulation.

A long-time contributor

While the MOU is a new initiative, the University has been supporting inmate education for almost as long as it has existed. Starting with four students in 1992, over 1,200 prison inmates have studied with the University. Up to 2022, 138 of them have been awarded 213 degrees, 28 of them at postgraduate level. On the right are some key events in HKMU's history of inmate education.

Concerted efforts to make studying behind bars possible

Being Hong Kong's only university offering tertiary qualifications via distance learning, HKMU has a unique advantage in delivering education to prison inmates. However, distance learning in prison is not entirely the same. Without Internet access, inmate students need help in downloading web-based study materials. 'Different prisons and correctional institutions have different requirements on the formats of materials. Some are fine with discs, while others prefer cassette tapes. Even if there are only one or two students on one course in a prison, we'll cater to its special requirements,' explains Dr Eva Tsang Yuen-mei, Director of Advancement of Learning and Teaching. The Student Affairs Office has a dedicated team that coordinates the University's support services for inmate students. Once every term, it arranges for tutors of popular courses to pay a visit to inmate students in their places of custody, advising them on problems they may encounter. Other HKMU staff also visit immate students from time to time to better understand their learning needs.

Philanthropic support

One challenge for inmate students is to finance their studies. 'While many inmate students wish to complete their degrees quickly, some are only able to study one course each term because of their financial circumstances,' says Prof. Ricky Kwok Yu-kwong, Vice President (Research and Student Development). 'The new MOU will provide inmate students with enhanced financial assistance.'

In 2021–22, more than half of HKMU's inmate students benefitted from financial assistance, with some being offered fully funded or half-funded bursaries. The University is extremely grateful to community benefactors for sustaining its work in inmate education over the years. Among them, Tin Ka Ping Foundation recently gifted an additional HK$1 million on top of its annual contribution of HK$120,000, to be distributed over three years in response to a 30% jump in the number of inmates enrolled in HKMU in the past year.

Stories of students in custody

Shek Pik Prison – Elimu (false name)

Elimu, a 36-year-old Tanzanian, grew up in the Katumba Refugee Camp and worked against all odds to obtain a bachelor's degree, a rare achievement among his fellows. However, poverty drove him to engage in drug trafficking, which led to his 15-year sentence in Hong Kong. In prison, he picked up studies again and has so far completed 70 credits for the Bachelor of Social Sciences in Economics with HKMU. He considers studying as essential to his reintegration into society, knowing that an HKMU degree is recognised both locally and internationally. His goal is to finish all 120 credits necessary for the Bachelor's degree before his discharge in 2025, hoping to continue onto a Master's degree and work as a tutor in the future.

Finance has been a major barrier for Elimu. He is extremely grateful for the financial support he has obtained from various sources, but he looks forward to receiving a more stable bursary from HKMU, which will bring him a step closer to achieving his aspirations.

Stanley Prison – Andre (false name)

Like Elimu, 36-year-old South African Andre was introduced to drug trafficking in financial plight, and ended up being sentenced for 16 years and four months in Hong Kong. As the eldest child of a poor Christian family with five children, he bore the responsibilities of the breadwinner, which he failed to fulfil after being laid off.

Believing that university education will give him specialised business knowledge to contribute to society, Andre seized the opportunity to pursue the university dream he had been deprived of while in confinement. Since 2018, he has earned 65 credits by studying one course per year with financial assistance from the CSD and church groups, scoring a commendable average grade of 'B+'. A more stable HKMU bursary will speed up his studies, allowing him to complete the 120 credits required to obtain a bachelor's degree by the time of his discharge in 2027.