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Opening Ceremony of the International Conference on “Internationalization of Lifelong Education: Policy and Issues”

Speech by Professor Arthur K C Li

Secretary for Education and Manpower

Opening Ceremony of the International Conference on

“Internationalization of Lifelong Education: Policy and Issues”

on 3 December 2004

 

 

Prof Young, Dr Victor Lee, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen,

 

I am very pleased to take part in the International Conference today.  I must, first of all, congratulate the Federation for Continuing Education in Tertiary Institutions on organising such a meaningful Conference, which, I understand, has attracted hundreds of participants from different sectors.  The enthusiastic response shows that we all recognise the importance of lifelong education, and are determined to rise to the challenges and opportunities that globalisation brings to our education systems.

 

Importance of Lifelong Education

 

The Chief Executive highlighted “lifelong learning” as a primary goal of our education system in his 1998 Policy Address.  The philosophy of lifelong education is that learning is an un-ending process crucial both to self-actualisation and social development.  It is through lifelong education that we inculcate initiatives, responsiveness and creativity in individuals.  These individuals in turn form a well-trained and versatile workforce which helps enterprises to thrive, and maintain Hong Kong ’s overall competitiveness in a globalised economy.

 

Lifelong education is therefore at the heart of our education policy, and manifests itself at all levels of our education system.  In basic education, we emphasize on providing room and support to learning activities that go beyond the confines of the classroom.  Thereafter, lifelong learning is supported by a diversified education system comprising universities, post-secondary colleges and continuing education institutions that offer a wide range of programmes.  Now I would like to take you through our education and training systems, and share with you experiences and thoughts in a few areas that are most pertinent to the promotion of lifelong learning.

 

The new academic structure

 

All education systems have an academic structure that defines and supports formal education.  In Hong Kong , we are fundamentally reviewing our academic structure.  Notably the changes that we are proposing will lay a solid foundation for our students to pursue lifelong education.  Under the new “3+3+4” academic structure, all students will have the opportunity to complete a 3-year senior secondary course and hence be better prepared for work or further learning.  Through a more coherent and diversified curriculum, students of different needs, interests, aptitudes and abilities will be able to explore their potentials.  Their language and mathematical abilities can be enhanced, and a broadened knowledge base will help them understand contemporary issues that impact on their daily life at personal, community, national and global levels.  We hope children coming through our education system will not only be effective learners at school, but will remain as critical, reflective and independent thinkers after they leave school.

 

We also recognize that having a single public examination at the end of the 3-year senior secondary course, instead of two public examinations within four years - under the current academic structure, will help reduce the pressure on students.  This will give them more room to develop inquiry-based learning and to learn how to learn.  Higher education institutions will then complement the system, by offering 4-year undergraduate degree programmes, for more balanced and all-round development of our students.  The new “3+3+4” academic system will also align Hong Kong with the mainstream international systems.  It will lead to multiple progression pathways and facilitate smoother articulation to higher levels of studies in academic, vocational and professional fields; thereby facilitating every child in the pursuit of lifelong education.

 

I am glad that the education sector and the community at large are generally supportive of the new academic structure.  I would like to take this opportunity to invite your feedback on its design blueprint, timing of implementation and financial arrangements.  The issues are complex, and huge amounts of resources are involved.  However, with the community’s support, I am confident that we can together implement changes for the better.

 

Qualification Framework

 

With an improved academic structure, an enriched curriculum and programmes abound, the next obvious question is : how do we help learners make their choice?  How do we help them draw up their own roadmaps to upgrade themselves and acquire higher qualifications?  These are important issues that we need to address if we wish to encourage lifelong learning.  The answer, we believe, lies in the introduction of a Qualifications Framework – or QF in short – and this will be one of our priority areas in the coming few years.

 

The QF that we envisage for Hong Kong is a seven-level hierarchy that orders and supports qualifications of academic, vocational and continuing education.  Each level is identified by a set of standards known as generic level descriptors, and all qualifications to be linked to the Framework will have to be quality assured.

 

Associated with the QF is the Qualifications Register which is being developed as a web-based data warehouse accessible by the public.  By providing reliable information about qualifications and programmes offered at each level of the QF, the Register will make the qualifications system in Hong Kong more transparent locally and internationally.

 

Through the establishment of the QF, both education and training providers, employers and the public can better understand the range of qualifications in Hong Kong and how different types of qualifications can contribute to improving the skills of the workforce.  They can then make informed choices.  The QF also provides linkages between different types of vocational and academic qualifications so as to foster a flexible lifelong education system.  The training market will thus become more vibrant and responsive, and learners will have a better sense of direction in lifelong learning.

 

To promote the QF in the industries, we have, in the past few months, established five industry-based Industry Training Advisory Committees for the Watch and Clock, Chinese Catering, Printing and Publishing, Hairdressing, and Property Management sectors.  These Committees also help establish Industry Training Specifications which are the blueprint for training programmes and qualifications of the industry.  We expect more of them to come on stream in the next few years.

 

We also intend to conduct a study on credit accumulation and transfer next year, because it is important that qualifications acquired through different channels are duly recognized.  At the end of the day, we hope to establish a system through which credits attained by learners can be appropriately transferred vertically and/or horizontally, so that learners may feel free to enter and exit at different points.  This will no doubt enhance mobility in our lifelong learning system.

 

Continuing Education Fund and Skills Upgrading Scheme

 

Apart from putting in place the necessary infrastructure, the Government also supports lifelong learning at the personal level.  For instance, we launched a $400 million Skills Upgrading Scheme in 2001 to provide focused skills training to those with secondary education and below, to help them better adapt to the changing working environment.  The Scheme now covers 20 industries and two new industries will be joining the Scheme shortly.  So far, about 5 000 training classes have been organized, benefiting over a hundred thousand trainees.

 

A $5 billion Continuing Education Fund was set up in June 2002 to further promote continuing education and improve the quality of our workforce.  The Fund provides subsidies to people who pursue training in generic workplace skills, or training in specific industrial and service sectors that drive our economic development.  To date, we have received over 150,000 applications, testifying to the growing demand for self-improvement in a period of economic transformation.

 

Developing Hong Kong as Regional Education Hub

 

So what is next?  Are we satisfied with improving our own education system and enhancing the quality of our local workforce?  How far would that take us?  I think the 21st Century demands more than that.  To ensure that Hong Kong remains competitive, our education system must inculcate a cosmopolitan outlook that promotes not only the interests of the place to which we belong, but also the well being of the global economy.

 

Starting with basic education, we encourage our children to develop the urge and ability to learn more about the world and be responsible citizens.  We promote diversity in curriculum and the school system, such that students of different backgrounds and interests may develop to their fullest potentials.  We also support exchange programmes at the school level.  Since 2000, we have been organising annual exchange programmes with the Ministry of Education in Singapore for students and teachers.  Earlier this year, we have established a network of secondary schools in Hong Kong and Shanghai for exchange activities, and we are making similar arrangements with secondary schools in Beijing .  We believe that all these exchange programmes will widen students’ horizon, improve their language and social skills, and make them more global-looking.  Schools and teachers can also share experiences in areas such as curriculum planning, teaching pedagogy and the use of information technology in education.

 

At the higher education level, we have also created an education environment conducive to bringing different parts of the world together.  At present, we set no quota for their admission to research postgraduate and self-financing programmes, and they can occupy up to 4% of our publicly-funded undergraduate and taught postgraduate places.  We will double this quota in 2005/06, by allowing another 4% intake of self-funded students.

 

           Our higher education institutions have also established close ties with their counterparts on the Mainland and abroad, not limited to renowned institutions such as Tsinghua and Harvard.  At the same time, we witness a growing number of non-local course providers in Hong Kong .  There are now some 900 non-local higher education and professional training programmes in Hong Kong , open to learners who have their eyes on the world.

 

To build on our strengths as a cosmopolitan city, we must also attract the best and the brightest in the region and world-wide to come to Hong Kong for study and work.  We are therefore committed to developing Hong Kong as the regional “education hub”, and we believe Hong Kong has the potential and the right conditions to do so.  We have tertiary institutions that host Asia ’s best executive business management programmes and research projects.  Due to our close proximity to the Mainland and the unique blend of Chinese and Western cultures, we have a social environment that enriches the educational experiences of non-local students.  We can become the regional centre of excellence for lifelong education.

 

We are therefore considering how our policies can further facilitate the admission of non-local students to study in Hong Kong .  With the rapid expansion of the post-secondary education sector in recent years, we understand that service providers see great potential for recruiting non-local students, in particular Mainland students.  When we are in a position to consult service providers on this issue, I hope I can look to all of you here to give us full support.

 

Closing Remarks

 

           Ladies and gentlemen, lifelong education holds the key to Hong Kong ’s continued success.  The promotion of lifelong education requires the concerted efforts of the Government and education and training providers.  I am glad that this Conference offers an excellent opportunity for us to get together and exchange ideas about this important subject.  I trust that, with your contribution, we can have fruitful discussions in these two days to help shape the development and internationalisation of lifelong education in Hong Kong .

 

Thank you.

Last revision date: 03 December 2004
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