Speech by Mr Michael M. Y. SUEN, GBS, JP
Secretary for Education of the HKSAR
on 6 May 2008
Nurturing Talents in the Global World
Distinguished Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen,
It is my great pleasure to be here in Finland . Thank you for your wonderful hospitality. This is my first visit here, and you have made me feel very much at home.
I am grateful to the Finnish Government and your Consul General in Hong Kong for arranging such an exciting programme for us.
Let me first congratulate Finland on establishing an education system that is consistently ranked at the top of the world. Finnish students are renowned for their literacy, science, mathematics and problem solving skills, which are valuable assets to any community.
I am pleased to say that Hong Kong is also doing very well in providing quality education. In a report last September by McKinsey management consultants on the world’s best performing school systems, Hong Kong was placed in the top tier alongside Finland .
Still, there is no room for complacency for us.
In the next few minutes I will bring you up to date with the latest developments in our own education system.
I will also highlight our strategy for developing Hong Kong into an education centre in Asia . To attain this goal, we will need to build up mutual co-operation with cities and countries around the world.
In the current school year, more than 7,200 non-local students come to Hong Kong to attend various programmes funded by our University Grants Committee, or UGC for short. However, only one of these students is from Finland . I do hope that many more will follow.
We already have a well-established student exchange programme with Finland . Our UGC-funded institutions have exchange arrangements with 13 institutions in Finland . In this academic year we have received 37 students from Finland and 39 of our students have come to Finland as part of that programme.
So what can overseas students, as well as academics and business people, expect from Hong Kong ?
Firstly, we have a multicultural society where people of all backgrounds, regardless of race and religion mix easily in the community. Our cultural diversity, with a unique blend of influences from East and West makes for an interesting and vibrant city life.
Chinese and English are both official languages in Hong Kong .
Last year, Hong Kong celebrated the 10th anniversary of reunification with the Mainland of China. Under the “One Country, Two Systems” formula for our reunification, the city has retained all the characteristics that have contributed to its successful development.
This element of continuity is guaranteed by our constitutional document, the Basic Law. The Basic Law ensures that Hong Kong people will continue to run Hong Kong with a high degree of autonomy.
We continue to enjoy the same freedoms as we have done for decades, including a free flow of information, ideas, and a free and probing media.
We have a zero tolerance approach to corruption, and the rule of law is upheld by an independent judiciary. All these and many more have helped to secure Hong Kong ’s world number one ranking as the freest economy in the world by the US-Based Heritage Foundation. And we have held that ranking for the past 14 years in a row.
Today, Hong Kong is the city of choice for overseas companies looking to the Asian markets, and in particular China . About 3,890 foreign companies have set up their Regional Headquarters or Regional Offices in Hong Kong . And this is 55% more than we had 10 years ago.
Many of them are drawn to the city by our world-class financial services sector, excellent telecommunications infrastructure and a deep pool of local and international expertise.
To maintain our status as an international city in Asia , we are working hard to expand and upgrade our homegrown talent through education and retraining. We also compete with other cities to attract high-calibre individuals from around the world to come to Hong Kong to live, work and contribute to our society.
I will talk about our homegrown talent first.
Education takes up the largest share of government resources. Annual spending on education exceeds 4 billion Euros. That is almost a quarter of total government expenditure.
To help our students meet the challenges in a rapidly changing world, we are equipping them with the ability for life-long learning through a comprehensive education reform programme.
This reform programme was initiated about 10 years ago. I am pleased to say our efforts, and the hard work of our teachers, are bearing fruit.
Hong Kong students have scored well in various international assessments. In the Programme for International Student Assessment 2006, our 15-year-old students ranked 2nd in Science and 3rd in both Mathematics and Reading . In the Progress in International Reading Literacy Study 2006, our Primary 4 students came 2nd in reading literacy.
The performance of our universities is also encouraging. Three of our universities placed in the top 60 of the Times Higher Education Supplement 2007. They host some of Asia ’s best executive business management programmes and research projects. An executive MBA programme offered by the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology was ranked as the world’s best by the Financial Times of London in October last year.
Building on our strengths, we will continue to nurture our younger generation by equipping them with broad-based knowledge, high adaptability skills and the ability to think independently and creatively.
It is also important that no one is left behind and that all children have access to a good education.
From the start of our next school year in September we will extend our nine-year free education programme to 12 years through public sector primary and secondary schools.
Another initiative is a new academic structure for the senior secondary and undergraduate levels. The aim here is to provide a more diversified curriculum for our students promoting their whole-person development.
Remember that Hong Kong is a city of few natural resources. We rely on the hard work and “can do” spirit of our people to stay ahead of the competition in our region. So it is vital that we continue to stimulate creativity and innovation. In his Budget in February, the Financial Secretary set aside 1.5 billion Euros for a research endowment fund to support research at our tertiary institutions.
The applied research at these institutions will help the business community master new developments in our knowledge-based economy.
In addition to nurturing our local talent, we encourage more overseas people to come to Hong Kong .
Their presence enhances our status as Asia ’s world city, and as a place of opportunity for foreign firms, business people and professionals as well as their families.
Children’s education is one of the top priorities for people considering a move to Hong Kong . Over the years we have developed a vibrant and high quality international school sector. More than 50 international schools operate in the city offering a wide range of curricula of different countries. Many schools also offer International Baccalaureate programmes.
To meet strong demand for places, more land is being set aside for the expansion of existing schools and the development of new ones.
We are further opening the door to students from every corner of the world. A diverse cultural and learning environment helps broaden students’ horizons and generate innovative ideas.
For one thing, we will increase the quota for non-local students. We are also relaxing employment and immigration restrictions to provide non-local students with the greatest flexibility possible in developing their career in Hong Kong . Students will be able to take up certain part-time jobs during their studies. And after they have graduated they will be able to remain in Hong Kong for up to a year so that they have plenty of time to find a suitable job.
Another way of providing support for this sector is through scholarships. In his Policy Address last October, our Chief Executive announced the creation of a 80 million Euros Government Scholarship Fund for both local and non-local students.
I am confident that the measures I have mentioned will help attract energetic and high quality students to our community.
My final point today is about ensuring quality and relevance of the academic qualifications for life-long learning. To achieve this we are developing a Qualification Framework or QF for short. This is a seven-level hierarchy against which academic, vocational and continuing education qualifications can be benchmarked. The QF helps people plot their educational progress and plan their next step. It also helps employers better understand the qualifications and the training needs of their people.
In the long run, the QF promotes lifelong learning so that we can ultimately raise the quality of our human capital and remain a competitive and dynamic city in this age of globalisation.
Ladies and gentlemen, I hope I have been able to give you some ideas as to what we are doing in Hong Kong to enhance our education system.
As a city with few natural resources, we regard our people as our greatest asset. So it is critical that we provide the right learning environment for our students and give them the opportunity to keep on learning throughout their lifetime.
Given our business-friendly reputation and prime location in the heart of East Asia I believe Hong Kong is well positioned to serve as an education hub in our region.
My present trip to Finland is also an education of sorts for me. It is a great chance to learn some of the secrets of your success in education and make new friends along the way.
I thank you again for your hospitality and I look forward to closer educational collaboration between Hong Kong and Finland to achieve an even brighter future for our students.