Speech by Professor Arthur K C Li, GBS, JP
Secretary for Education and Manpower
Hong Kong Management Association Fellowship Dinner
on 7 December 2004
“A roadmap to enhance Hong Kong ’s manpower quality”
Mr Chairman, distinguish guests, ladies and gentlemen,
I must, first of all, thank your Chairman for his kind remarks. In fact I am very impressed by his courage in publicly acknowledging me as his brother as well as Secretary for Education and Manpower. After all, it is perhaps politically incorrect to be associated with the Government in any way at all!
Your Chairman just mentioned that he did not know why I joined the Government. The reason is very simple. I had a thorough medical check-up and they examined my brain and found nothing.
Tonight it is indeed a great pleasure for me to be here because my brother, your Chairman has to sit patiently through and listen to what I have to say.
Seriously, tonight I wish to share with you how Government go about supporting the development of our human capital to serve your interest.
Last year, the outbreak of SARS brought fear and pain to our community. The plummeted economy had disrupted many businesses and pushed the unemployment rate to a record high. Yet, we Hong Kong people once again demonstrated our resilience, tenacity and creativity to weather the difficult times. Our economy has regained its momentum since the end of last year.
Though our businesses are now back on track, there is still a big challenge ahead of us, i.e. how can our workforce remain competitive in light of the fierce competition from our neighbouring regions?
As leaders of your respective fields, I am sure you all agree that the key solution lies in constantly upgrading our human capital. To begin, I would like to briefly highlight to you the existing profile of our workforce. About half of our working population has attained an education level of Secondary 3 or below, and only about quarter of our workforce has attained post-secondary qualifications and matriculation. With the transformation of Hong Kong into a knowledge-based economy, there are inevitably mismatches between the skills of our workers and the job requirements. The mismatch situation will get worse according to our manpower projection. By 2007, we project that there will be a significant surplus of workers with only secondary level or below, while there will be shortages of those at the post-secondary and degree levels. Sectors like business services, finance, insurance and real estates are expected to have a significant increase in manpower requirement, but there will be a shortage of qualified workers to meet these demands.
To address the issue of increasing mismatches between the job requirements and the qualifications of the workforce, the Government has adopted a three-pronged approach: i) to reform the education system to enhance its quality; ii) to equip our workforce with new skills to keep pace with our manpower needs; and iii) to promote life-long learning so that our workforce will become better prepared to meet the changing needs of the labour market.
Reforming the Academic Structure for Senior Secondary Education and Higher Education
In recent years, we have been undergoing major reforms in our education system, and are beginning to reap the benefits. To further upgrade our system, we need to go one step further, and that is why we propose to introduce a new academic structure for senior secondary education and higher education. This is a topic of much discussion lately after the release of our consultation document. That’s also why, no matter whether you like it or not, you cannot avoid seeing me so often on the TV. I hope you would allow me to do some lobbying here, as many of the Members here tonight are not only leaders today but also parents of our future leaders.
Some people have asked why we should introduce such a reform on the academic structure. Our underlying rationale is simple, that is, to enable our youngsters to receive a better quality education through reforming the present system, which is too narrow and too exam-oriented. We need to effectively prepare our next generation to cope with the challenges of the 21st Century and the demands of our rapidly developing knowledge-based society.
With the revamp of the present system from a 3+2+2+3 into a 3+3+4 format, 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 to the full. 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.
The new senior secondary curriculum will help strengthen students’ generic skills, including biliterate and trilingual fluencies, IT skills and a broadened knowledge base through the subject of Liberal Studies in particular. We hope to enhance their awareness and help them understand contemporary issues that impact on their daily life at personal, community, national and global levels. The introduction of career-oriented studies enriches students’ choice in meeting their different needs, aptitudes and interests, and enables them to acquire skills other than academic studies. These will enable our students to build connections between what they learn from classes and what happens in the real world.
Building on this foundation, universities can also have more time and space in a 4-year undergraduate programme to provide a broader and more diversified curriculum, including, wherever appropriate and possible, overseas or Mainland exchange programmes. This will widen our students’ horizons and expose them to both specialized and broad knowledge for a more balanced whole-person development.
The new “3+3+4” academic system will also align Hong Kong with the mainstream international systems. The new structure not only helps students develop various potentials, but nurture their attitude towards lifelong learning. It helps students to be better prepared for post-secondary education, or to undergo vocational training and join the workforce. The new system ensures diversity of choices for students to realize their potential. It provides multiple pathways to higher academic, vocational and professional qualifications so that every student will have opportunities for success in life.
I know there are concerns over who is going to pay for the new system. I can reassure you that the government will continue to invest heavily in education and ensure that no one will be deprived of education through lack of means. However, since we have been running a budget deficit these years, we also need to count on the parents and students to play their part by bearing a balanced and affordable portion. We hope to receive constructive and innovative ideas and reach a consensus among different parties in the society after the consultation period.
Upgrading the Skills of our Workforce
Everyone here would agree that education is a means of social mobility and there is a need to constantly upgrade oneself to meet the demands of our changing economy. To develop a skilled and adaptable labour force, a strategic and coordinated approach on manpower planning is necessary. I do not think I need to emphasize here the importance of strategic partnership between Government and the employers in manpower development. Employers certainly have a key part to play in upgrading the skills and knowledge of their employees.
However, many employers in Hong Kong tend to rely on the labour market to supply them with qualified and educated workers. Formal training in the workplace is often neglected. This hardly bodes well with the development of a sense of belongings among employees and results in high turnover. In my view, it is in the best interest of employers to beef up their training efforts for the long-term benefit of their own businesses.
On Government’s front, we have launched various initiatives to help our workforce upgrade themselves. Two major ones include the Skills Upgrading Scheme and the Continuing Education Fund. The Skills Upgrading Scheme, launched in May 2001, aims at providing industry-specific training for in-service workers with low education and skills. With the collaboration of the employers, employees, training providers and Government, courses designed are tailor-made to the employees, catering their practical needs of the respective industries. The scheme began 3 years ago with 6 industries but now it has expanded to 20 industries with about 5,000 classes benefiting over 101,000 workers.
Another programme to promote continuing education and lifelong learning is the $5 billion Continuing Education Fund launched in June 2002. People aged between 18 and 60 are eligible for as much as $10,000 subsidy to study any approved courses. There are now over 3,600 such courses and the list is still growing. So far, we have approved more than 140,000 applications.
Establishing a Qualifications Framework
To foster an environment conducive to lifelong learning, we are establishing a Qualifications Framework that will enable the development of flexible and diverse education progression pathways. Under the framework, industry can participate to identify the skills and knowledge needed of its workforce and to develop competency standards and qualifications. Learners can then draw up different pathways to upgrade themselves and pursue lifelong learning at different stages and through different channels.
The Qualifications Framework in 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 the generic level descriptors.
Through the establishment of the QF, both education and training providers, employers as well as 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 our 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 education.
The Qualifications Framework is a voluntary system. However, the qualifications to be recognised under the Framework have to be quality assured to ensure the credibility of the qualifications. Those offered by the providers which are not self-accrediting have to be quality assured by the Hong Kong Council for Academic Accreditation (HKCAA).
Associated with the Qualifications Framework 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 by the providers, the Register will serve to make the qualifications system in Hong Kong more transparent locally and internationally, and help foster a more diverse and responsive lifelong education and training market in Hong Kong . The Hong Kong Council for Academic Accreditation is entrusted to be the administrator of the Register while the ownership of the Register remains with the Education and Manpower Bureau.
To promote the QF in the industries, we have, in the past few months, established five Industry Training Advisory Committees for the Watch and Clock, Chinese Catering, Printing and Publishing, Hairdressing, and Property Management sectors. These Committees will help establish a set of Industry Training Specifications comprising competency standards which will make up the qualifications for the industry and become the blueprint for training programmes. We expect more of them will 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 as well as/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.
Manpower certainly is the basis for Hong Kong ’s success, but brainpower is a springboard for our prospect tomorrow. In the past, we relied much on our precious asset --- our adaptable and productive workforce, to make Hong Kong such a successful and productive economy. In the future, there will be no difference, we will continue to rely on having an adaptable workforce to maintain our competitive edge. In transforming progressively into a knowledge-based and higher value-added economy, Hong Kong will need a larger pool of educated and skilled labour. It is inevitable that our future manpower requirement will shift towards the higher end of the education attainment ladder. It is vital that we are successful in better educating our youngsters, upgrading the quality of our workforce and promoting lifelong learning in the community so that our human capital remains resilient and adaptable.
Government would not be able to do all these alone and your support in our work is indispensable to make Hong Kong prosper as ever.