Professor Arthur K C Li
Secretary for Education and Manpower
Address at Opening Ceremony for the 21st ICDE World Conference
18 February 2004
[Theme of the Conference : Lifelong Learning in the Networked World]
Dr Wu, Prof Tam, Prof Leong, Prof Taylor , Dr Roll, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen,
First of all I like to thank you for giving me the honour to address such a distinguished audience today. I must also congratulate the Open University of Hong Kong for successfully bringing this prestigious world conference to Hong Kong , and on behalf of the Government of Hong Kong I would like to extend a very warm welcome to you all.
I hope visitors will find themselves at home in Hong Kong . In this cosmopolitan city we take pride in our unique blend of eastern and western cultures and our international outlook, which has underpinned our success in the last century, and will continue to support our development in future. You might know that Hong Kong started as a city of immigrants, but you might not know that it still maintains an eclectic mix of more than 500,000 expatriates today. This is not including the 16 million visitors that we receive each year from all over the world. We are one of the world's most externally-oriented economies, with a trade-to-GDP ratio of 230%, and over 3,200 overseas companies setting up their regional headquarters here. Last month, Hong Kong was selected again, by the Heritage Foundation, as the freest economy in the world for the 10th consecutive year.
As a staunch supporter of free market economy, as well as one of the founding members of the World Trade Organisation, we readily embrace the opportunities offered by increasing globalisation and economic cooperation, not least those arising from China 's accession to the WTO and CEPA which is the Mainland – Hong Kong Closer Economic Partnership Arrangement. But we are also fully aware of the challenges globalisation poses, in terms of pressures for collaboration and continuous advancement, and enhanced competition. I cannot agree more with ICDE that in this globalised era, the key to success and sustainable development is maintaining ourselves effectively networked , with the rest of the world and at institutional and individual levels.
And this is all premised upon a workforce that has a global outlook, is responsive to changes, and can excel in a knowledge-based economy. As Secretary for Education and Manpower I firmly believe in the value and strength of our human capital. The question is how we can nurture home-grown talents and attract the best and the brightest from overseas to this end.
To me, the answer lies in an education system that goes beyond just the provision of first-class opportunities for basic and higher education. We must have a system that inculcate cross-cultural skills and a spirit of life-long learning , that meet the needs of students as well as their future employers and business partners, local and abroad.
Starting with basic education, we hope our children can develop the urge and ability to learn more about the world in which we live, to communicate well and to be responsible and contributing citizens. We encourage them to take an interest in both local and international affairs, and we promote diversity in both the curriculum and the school system, such that students of different backgrounds and interests may develop to their fullest potential. We have now 55 international schools, as compared to some 40 a decade ago, bringing local and foreign children together and playing an important part in promoting cross-cultural exposure.
Our children also enjoy the benefits of exchange programmes at an early age. Since 2000, we have been organising an annual exchange programme with the Ministry of Education in Singapore for students and teachers. Another agreement was reached recently with the Education Bureau of the Shanghai , establishing a network of exchanges among secondary schools in Hong Kong and Shanghai .
At the post-secondary level, our universities are long-time partners to leading institutions on the Mainland and abroad, including Tsinghua and Harvard. These established links do not only provide cross-cultural stimuli to the local academia, but also illustrate the potential of our institutions to compete at the highest international levels. There are basically no entry barriers for non-local education institutions to operate in Hong Kong . Subject to compliance with regulations which seek to protect consumer interests, non-local institutions may freely offer their higher education and professional courses in Hong Kong , either on their own or jointly with local institutions. There are at present some 900 such programmes, including those run by internationally-renowned institutes such as the Ivey School of Business.
We are fully aware of the educational values of having a healthy mix of students on campus. Non-local students often stimulate competition and bring in new social and cultural perspectives. Some of them, in particular a significant group from top Mainland universities, are high calibre by national standards, with exemplary performance in both academic and non-academic activities. As a general policy, we will further increase the proportion of non-local students in our publicly-funded universities.
For those who have already completed their tertiary education, or working adults who did not have the opportunity to pursue higher education in the first place, lifelong learning is an essential tool to help them cope with new challenges of a knowledge-based economy.
A forerunner in lifelong and distance learning for our workforce is, of course, the Open University of Hong Kong. By opening its programmes to all adults and adopting a flexible distance learning mode, the University has made invaluable contribution to the training and continuous upgrading of our workforce, enabling them to adapt to rapid changes in the global market. I am sure the 27,000 graduates from the University can bear testimony to this.
Indeed, within a decade of its establishment, the Open University of Hong Kong has firmly established itself as one of the leading institutions in the region. The many international awards that it receives include the prestigious Prize of Excellence for Institutions and Individuals given by the ICDE. I am particularly impressed by the innovative projects that the Open University of Hong Kong has undertaken to promote lifelong learning. It set up, for instance, an Electronic Library in 1998 with a $20 million government grant, enabling students to access an automated library system through the computer network on a 24-hour basis, both on and off campus. The project has received many commendations for its flexibility and cost-effectiveness, and has also earned the University the reputable Stockholm Challenge Award.
To support the University's development into a regional centre of excellence in distance learning and adult education, we provided another $50 million for the University to carry out research in this area, to incorporate multi-media and on-line elements into course and programme delivery, and to promote best practices and pedagogies. These efforts not only enhanced the quality of education at the University, but also benefited the world of lifelong education as a whole.
To encourage those with learning aspirations to pursue continuing education and training programmes , we set up a $5 billion Continuing Education Fund in 2002 to subsidise their studies. Upon completion of an approved course under eight designated sectors, namely financial services, tourism, logistics, business services, creative industries, language, design and interpersonal skills for the workplace, eligible applicants will be reimbursed 80 per cent of their course fees up to $10,000. By now, we have already approved over 68,650 applications.
In his Policy Address this January, the Chief Executive set a clear direction for the development of our education services at various levels. Being an international city has been an asset to Hong Kong , and we must build on our strengths. Other than training talents locally, we hope to draw on those from elsewhere to enhance Hong Kong 's international competitiveness.
Options are being explored, but the vision has already been clearly established : that Hong Kong should aspire to be a regional hub of education excellence that provides quality education meeting the needs of local students, expatriates and prospective students from the rest of the world. Maintaining ourselves effectively networked, so to speak, is essential if we wish to secure a quality labour force that can help our economy thrive. In the face of globalisation and keen competition in the 21 st Century, perhaps it is not an exaggeration to say that effective networking is synonomous with survival, and continuous upgrading of this network through lifelong learning the key to success.
I think I have said enough. Anyway, I am sure that you will find plenty of examples providing useful insights on the important subject of lifelong learning in the coming few days. Without further ado, I now declare the 21 st ICDE World Conference open. I sincerely wish this Conference every success and all the guests here a memorable and wonderful stay in Hong Kong .