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QF International Conference “Hong Kong Qualifications Framework: Major Milestones and the Way Forward”

18 March 2013 (Monday)


Speech by Mrs Cherry Tse, JP
Permanent Secretary for Education



Sir Andrew Cubie, Chairman of Scottish Credit and QF Partnership, Hon Martin Liao, Chairman of the Hong Kong Council for Accreditation of Academic and Vocational Qualifications, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen,


     Good afternoon.  I feel honoured to be asked to give the very first talk at this two-day Conference.  Gathered in this Hall are all people involved in developing Qualifications Framework.  In a way, it is like a gathering of pilgrims – people from different backgrounds but heading towards the same destination; the destination being a mechanism that can best facilitate learners’ mobility and articulation.  As we embark on our pilgrimage, each of us carries our own baggage of history, doing things in the way we are used to.  Through sharing, we know more about one another, and in a reflective manner, about ourselves.  An enhanced level of understanding will in turn help us consider how we may better walk the untrodden paths ahead.   So, to start off this sharing, let me first introduce to you what Hong Kong Qualifications Framework (or “Hong Kong QF” in short) is about, how it came into place, what we have done so far, and what we plan to do ahead.



Background for Launching Hong Kong QF and Our Vision


2.     The idea of a QF in Hong Kong did not arise in a vacuum.  It was born out of a realisation of our inadequacies in around the turn of the century.  Seized by lightning technological advances and the irresistable and permeating waves of globalisation, we were all too aware that changes and uncertainties were the defining features of the 21st century.  Only a readiness to accept new possibilities, a lifelong learning mindset, a never ending quest for more and more updated knowledge and skills, could keep us afloat.  The gravity of the situation faced by Hong Kong is perhaps unrivalled.  As an externally-oriented economy with our trade volume being almost three-fold that of our GDP, our vulnerability to globalisation is total – either we harness it or we are extinguished by it.


3.     According to a population census in 2001, 37% of our working population at that time had educational attainment at or below junior secondary level.  A manpower projection at around the same time also suggested a significant mismatch between job requirements and workers’ qualifications.  Talent grooming was urgently needed.


4.     At the same time, we saw a proliferation of qualifications in the market with little common benchmarks of quality.  Both learners and the industry were uncertain about the outcomes and the relevance of education and training.  Progression ladders were unclear and were largely corporations- rather than industry-based.


5.     It was against this background that the Government announced in 2004 the plan to establish a Hong Kong QF.  With a few years of preparation, we formally launched the Hong Kong QF in May 2008.  The provision of a quality, flexible and diversified study pathways with multiple entry and exit points is our objective.  A flexible yet clear pathway-map encourages our labour force and youngsters to pursue with passion their diverse interests and abilities, knowing that with perseverance and hard work, all pathways can lead to a bright future.  In providing a framework that celebrates a union of interest, aspirations and hard work, the QF makes lifelong learning a possibility.  Our ultimate aim is to provide a platform for the seamless transition among school education, training and employment.  In addition, the QF helps bridge the gap between job requirements and training.  Training can now be provided with the requirements of the industry in mind.  Our students and work force can develop their careers through vocational qualifications accepted by industries.


6.     The possibilities of articulation transcend borders.  With the Hong Kong QF, we can explore referencing or aligning the Hong Kong qualifications with the QFs in other places.  This can greatly enhance international mobility and articulation of talents from Hong Kong as well as help Hong Kong attract talents from other places.


7.     I shall next highlight the features of Hong Kong QF, and what we have done with it so far.



Characteristics of Hong Kong QF and Current Achievements


One single, seven-level QF for all sectors


8.     Hong Kong QF is a seven-level hierarchy covering qualifications in the academic, vocational and continuing education sectors.  This design is deliberate to facilitate a seamless interface between academic and vocational sectors.  Each qualification is assigned a level to indicate its position in the hierarchy relative to others, which is determined in accordance with a set of generic level descriptors specifying the outcome standards expected of the qualification at each level.


Quality assurance


9.     The Hong Kong QF is underpinned by a robust quality assurance mechanism to ensure all qualifications recognised under Hong Kong QF are of good quality and standard.  All qualifications and their providers, other than those offered by a few institutions which have self-accrediting status, have to be accredited by the Hong Kong Council for Accreditation of Academic and Vocational Qualifications (HKCAAVQ), the sole statutory quality assurance body in Hong Kong, before they can be recognised under the Hong Kong QF.


Qualifications Register


10.    The QF can realise its potential only if the community makes use of it.  So access to information is a must.  We put in place a Qualifications Register, which is a web-based database containing information on quality-assured qualifications and their respective learning programmes.  The Qualifications Register is the public face of the Hong Kong QF and is accessible by the public free of charge on the Internet.  As at end February 2013, over 7 600 quality assured academic and vocational qualifications, involving about 210 education and training providers, were uploaded.


Industry-led development


11.    Qualifications are outcome-based and are not confined to academic attainment.  In the academic field, outcome standards at lower levels are tied to the school curriculum, and at the tertiary levels, set by scholars.  These standards are already quite well developed.  On the other hand, in the vocational field, outcome standards need to be developed.  They are determined by members of the respective industries through a consensual process.  Therefore, we have spent considerable time and efforts in past few years on assisting the industries to arrive at their respective outcome standards.


Industry Training Advisory Committees


12.    Outcome standards are underpinned by competency standards at different levels.  The industry knows best what it wants.  Therefore, the Government has been assisting industries in setting up their industry-specific advisory committees, known as Industry Training Advisory Committees (or “ITACs” in short).  ITACs consist of representatives of employer associations, trade unions, professional bodies and regulatory bodies of the relevant industries, and serve as a platform for stakeholders to work on the implementation of the QF in their industries.  The ITAC also provides a forum for exchange of views on the training needs and manpower development of the industries.  As at end February 2013, a total of 19 ITACs[1], covering industries which employ nearly half of our total workforce, have been established.


Specifications of Competency Standards


13.    ITACs are tasked to draw up Specifications of Competency Standards (or “SCSs” as we call it) for the relevant industries.  So far, 12 ITACs[2] have drawn up their SCSs.  The SCSs set out the skills, knowledge and outcome standards required of employees in different functional areas, and provide a basis for course providers to design training courses to meet the needs of the industries.  As the competency standards are developed by industry, the relevance of the training programmes to the requirements of the industry will be ensured.  SCSs also become the basis for industries to map out clear progression pathways whereby practitioners may draw up their own career development plans.  Besides, SCSs are gaining increasing acceptance by employers as useful guides for the development of in-house training programmes and human resources management tool, such as staff recruitment and performance assessment.


Recognition of Prior Learning mechanism


14.    ITACs also advise the Government on the development of a Recognition of Prior Learning (or we call it “RPL”) mechanism in their respective industries.  The aim is to recognise the experiences and competencies acquired by practitioners at the workplace.  The RPL mechanism represents a breakthrough in the confine of academic-dominance.  It provides an alternative route for practitioners of various backgrounds to receive formal recognition of the knowledge, skills and experience they have already acquired in the course of employment.  Through the RPL, practitioners can know the competencies and the levels that they have acquired through experience or previous training, so that they can determine their own starting point for learning and progression, and reduce duplication in training for the same skills.  ITACs develop RPL mechanisms based on SCSs they have drawn up.  As at end February 2013, the RPL mechanism has been implemented in eight industries[3].


Specification of Generic (Foundation) Competencies


15.    Generic skills, like industry-specific competencies, are essential to effective performance at the workplace.  We have developed the Specification of Generic (Foundation) Competencies under the Hong Kong QF to cover four strands of generic skills, namely English, Chinese, information technology, and numeracy.  The Specification of Generic (Foundation) Competencies and the industry-specific SCS complement each other in developing learning programmes relevant to industry needs.


Award Titles Scheme and Use of Credit


16.    Training and qualifications grew up in a haphazard manner in the past.  As a result, there was little, if any, standardisation in the titles of qualifications and awards.  This causes confusion to the learners.  For consistency and transparency, we introduced an Award Titles Scheme in October 2012 to simplify and standardise the award titles that could be used for qualifications at various levels under the Hong Kong QF.  For example, a qualification with “Diploma” in the award title must be at QF Level 3 or above.


17.    At the same time, we have launched the use of QF credit which is a measure of the volume or size of learning programmes recognised under Hong Kong QF.  It enables learners to know the extent of time and effort required for training and for acquisition of a certain qualification.  One QF credit consists of 10 notional learning hours.  Notional learning hours take into account the total time likely to be spent by a learner in all modes of learning, including both classroom learning and self-study at home.  In other words, notional learning time is not confined to time-tabled teaching or lecturing hours in classrooms.


18.    QF credit is an essential element of Hong Kong QF.  It provides a common “currency”.  It also helps promote modularised or bite-size learning to suit the needs of learners.  Moreover, it paves the way for the development of a credit accumulation and transfer mechanism which I shall go into details later.  With the introduction of QF credit, the Hong Kong QF will become a more effective platform to facilitate lifelong and diversified learning.



Future Developments


19.    Stepping into 2013, we are going to celebrate the 5th Anniversary of the Hong Kong QF.  Nevertheless, the Hong Kong QF is still a toddler.  There is still much to do to make it healthy and strong.


Credit accumulation and transfer


20.    To facilitate the building up of flexible and diversified study pathways with multiple entry and exit points, people require flexibility in the mode and pattern of learning.  A credit accumulation and transfer mechanism (or “CAT” in short) will provide the requisite flexibility and minimise duplication in training.  With a CAT system, learners can systematically accumulate the credits of learning and training gained from various courses, with a view to converting the accumulated credits into a recognised qualification.  The Hong Kong QF provides a common platform and benchmarks to facilitate CAT arrangements between sectors and training providers.  We are now working out the details to establish a CAT system under the Hong Kong QF.


Seamless transition among school education, training and employment


21.    In 2009, Hong Kong implemented a new senior secondary curriculum as part of a wider reform of our academic system.  Like the QF, the reform recognises and embraces diversity in talents and interest. As part of the diversified curriculum, we have introduced courses known as Applied Learning to complement traditional academic disciplines.  Applied Learning comprises practical learning linked to broad professional and vocational fields.  Yet, at the same time, it pays equal emphasis on the development of knowledge, skills and attitudes.   Students grasp fundamental theories and concepts through application and practice.  Generic skills are developed in an authentic context.  We are exploring the feasibility of integrating the industry-specific competency standards drawn up by the ITACs with the curriculum design of these Applied Learning courses.  This can further assure the relevance of Applied Learning to the requirements of the industries.  Hopefully, this will make us one step closer to our vision of forging a platform for the seamless transition among school education, training and employment.


Strengthening the partnership with industry to promote Hong Kong QF


22.    We have 19 industry-specific ITACs.  We shall continue to assist more industries to set up their ITACs under the Hong Kong QF.  For those industries which have already set up ITACs, the Financial Secretary has recently proposed in his Budget speech to allocate $10 million per year to support them to launch new initiatives under the Hong Kong QF to further enhance the knowledge and skills of workers in the industries, and their competitiveness in the labour market.  The new initiatives include:

  • First, introducing award schemes for outstanding practitioners to engage in learning activities in different places around the world;
  • Secondly, designing SCS-based training programmes and packages that meet the needs of the industries; and
  • Last but not least, stepping up promotion and publicity of the Hog Kong QF for its wider acceptance among all sectors.


The Government will be working closely not only with ITACs but also education and training providers and quality assurance agencies to implement the initiatives.


Networking with QFs in other places


23.    With globalisation comes mobility and connectivity.  We shall continue to explore referencing and aligning the Hong Kong QF with QFs of other areas so as to facilitate the mobility and articulation of people.  The Memorandum of Understanding that we signed with the Scottish Credit and Qualifications Framework Partnership last year is just the beginning.  As the Secretary for Education has mentioned just now, a Letter of Intent with the Guangdong Occupational Skill Testing Authority was also signed in May 2011 to explore the feasibility of cooperation.  Besides, we are exploring cooperation with QFs of other places as well.



Concluding Remarks


24.    Ladies and gentlemen, I have just made a brief account of how Hong Kong QF has come into place, what we have done so far and what we plan to do ahead.  Hong Kong QF is still at its early days.  The paradigm shift seeking to put vocational and academic qualifications on par has just begun.  As we grope for the way forward, we shall also continue to draw reference from the experience of QF development in other places.  This Conference exactly presents a good opportunity for us to learn more from each other.


25.    Last but not least, may I wish you all a fruitful conference.  I also hope that you can find time to feel for yourself Hong Kong’s shopping and dining excitements, and of course, contribute to our economy.   Thank you.






[1] Printing & Publishing, Watch & Clock, Chinese Catering, Hairdressing, Property Management,  Electrical & Mechanical Services, Jewellery, Information & Communications Technology, Automotive, Beauty, Logistics, Banking, Import & Export, Testing, Inspection & Certification, Retail, Insurance, Manufacturing Technology (Tooling, Metals and Plastics),  Elderly Care Service and Security Services.


[2] Printing & Publishing, Watch & Clock, Chinese Catering, Hairdressing, Property Management, Electrical & Mechanical Services, Jewellery, Information & Communications Technology, Automotive, Beauty, Logistics, Banking,.


[3] Printing & Publishing, Watch & Clock, Hairdressing, Property Management, Automotive, Jewellery, Logistics and Chinese Catering.




Last revision date: 18 March 2013
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