Professor Arthur K C Li Secretary for Education and Manpower Closing Remarks at "Higher Education Institutions - Employers Forum - Nurturing graduates for the future"
22 September 2003
Dr Lam, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen,
It gives me great pleasure in joining you at this special occasion of the Higher Education Institutions - Employers Forum. This forum offers an excellent opportunity for the valuable exchange among academia, students and employers on their respective views and expectations of today's graduates.
The theme of today's forum - "Nurturing graduates for the future" - in my opinion, is both important and timely for the local university sector to ponder.
Education is fundamental to a society's development. A society's survival and continued prosperity hinge on the quality of its human capital. It is through education that people can optimise their development potential and continue to upgrade themselves.
Universities have been called temples of knowledge or ivory towers that would suggest an emphasis on the pursuit of knowledge purely for the sake of knowledge itself. This could be considered a luxury by those who hold a utilitarian view of things. But this is how progress of the human race came about, through the transmission of knowledge, discovery of the unknown and creation of what might only have been dreams. New ideas are allowed to flourish, bringing about changes to enrich our society. At the same time, during the process of exploration, the future leaders of our society come to further develop their abilities and realise their potential in different aspects of life, in a relatively free and stable environment.
In the practical world, employers look to the universities to nurture graduates who could help them with their business and often complain that fresh graduates nowadays lack both skills and motivation.
Undoubtedly, students indeed would benefit in preparing for their future careers. And it's not just the technical knowledge and skills that would be required of them that count. After all, the shelf life of knowledge has been significantly shortened by the pace of technological advancement. Generic skills such as in communication and critical thinking, as well as work ethics of students must also be emphasized, thus increasing their employability.
On the other hand, universities are not glorified employment agencies churning out graduates to fill vacancies dictated by the market place.
No doubt, employers look to our universities for the supply of talents and manpower and it is our duty to ensure that this is happening such that our economy would continue to grow. However, universities do enjoy a specific strategic role in the long-term development of our society. While there are certain basic things that we would expect of our graduates, we should not think in terms of having to produce a certain number of sales executives, a certain number of marketing representatives or a certain number human resources managers. Instead, we should think of producing graduates that can excel in sales, marketing or human resources management.
I am not playing with words here. The essential thing is for us, for the universities to prepare our students in such a way that they would be ready to deal with problems and face challenges in the real world, in a global setting. It is more important for our graduates to be able to learn on their own, apt in communication, flexible and creative, as well as ready to take on responsibility, rather than for them to fit into specific job requirements. After all, the categories of jobs and their requirements could easily change and, though one may have been trained for the job, the skills and knowledge will have to be updated every now and then. It is thus to the benefit of employers if the newly employed might not be perfect in doing his or her job now but, with experience, could actually adapt as business expands and promote further growth. One therefore cannot over emphasize the importance of life long learning.
This poses a challenge to our universities given their strategic role in our society. They will need to constantly update themselves in both teaching and research, lest they would become irrelevant, without losing sight of their core competence. Partnership with the business sector helps, not only in bringing in new ideas and thinking, but could also allow students to learn about the practical side of things. This is why it is timely to have Forum like this where views are exchanged, expectations are agreed and aspirations understood.
I can see that we are creating a win-win-win situation here for our students, for the universities and for businesses by bringing together the institutions and the employers in nurturing our graduates for the future. I applaud the efforts of the UGC and the institutions in organising this Forum. As learning is life-long, this sort of cooperation and exchange is not one-off. I look forward to a continuing partnership between our higher education sector and employers, all for the good of Hong Kong.