Speech by Mr Michael M Y SUEN, GBS, JP
Secretary for Education
on 8 May 2008
Distinguished Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen,
I am delighted to be here in Norway . This is my first visit to your country and I have been looking forward to the trip for some time. Norway ’s stunning natural beauty exceeds expectations. Thank you also for your wonderful hospitality. The Norwegian Government has certainly arranged a fascinating programme for my visit.
Although Norway and China are geographically far apart, strong educational ties have emerged over the years. These connections have helped to raise the level of mutual understanding and partnership.
The Nordic Literature Research Institute is a good example. It was established in 2006 at Fudan University in Shanghai . It also carries out academic exchanges with universities in the Nordic countries.
In September 2007, the first group of Chinese students undertook studies in Norwegian language and culture at Beijing Foreign Studies University .
In Hong Kong, we have the Norwegian International School which caters for about 70 students and has a staff of 15. It is a valuable asset to our international school sector.
Our international schools are important in enhancing Hong Kong’s status as an international city for business, finance and trade in Asia because they take care of the education needs of the expatriates who provide the expertise needed in all these businesses.
For those of you who may not be familiar with Hong Kong , allow me to give you a very brief overview.
Last year marked the 10th anniversary of our reunification with the Mainland of China. We have entered the second decade as a Special Administrative Region, with confidence and optimism.
The unique “One Country, Two Systems” formula for our reunification is working well. As promised, Hong Kong people continue to run Hong Kong with a high degree of autonomy. Importantly for education, we encourage a free flow of information, ideas and a free and probing media.
These days we have a dual role to play as both a city in China and as an international city in Asia . We like to call ourselves “ Asia ’s world city”. In its January 28th edition, TIME Magazine coined the name “Nylonkong”, placing Hong Kong alongside London and New York as examples of globalisation. With a prime location in the heart of Asia, on the southern gateway to China , we are fully plugged into the global village.
Business people are attracted to Hong Kong by our proximity to the Mainland of China, with the world’s fastest growing large economy, and our experience in doing business with our counterparts in neighbouring provinces.
About 3,890 overseas enterprises have established their Regional Headquarters or Regional Offices in Hong Kong . That is 55% more than we had in 1997.
These companies contribute a deep and broad pool of expertise that has helped to furnish the city with a world-class financial services sector, highly developed telecommunications infrastructure and all the home comforts you would expect from an international city.
It is not bad for a city the size of Hong Kong, with a population of seven million in an area of about 1,100 square kilometres, which is roughly two and a half times the size of Oslo .
I have covered some of our main competitive advantages. Now I will talk about our greatest asset, our people.
To stay ahead of the competition, it is vital that we constantly upgrade our human capital and nurture our youngsters through good education and programmes designed for life-long learning.
I am impressed by Norway ’s commitment to investing in education. In Hong Kong , we also place a high spending priority in this area. Education accounts for almost a quarter of total government spending, or about 4 billion Euros annually.
To help our students rise to the challenge in the outside world, we work hard to equip them with a high quality education. We initiated a comprehensive education reform programme some 10 years ago to achieve this.
I am pleased to say that our efforts, and the hard work of our teachers are bearing fruit. Hong Kong students have scored highly in various international assessments. In the Programme for International Student Assessment 2006, our 15-year-olds 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.
Our universities also enjoy a high international profile. 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. The executive MBA programme offered by the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology was ranked number one in the world by the Financial Times of London in October last year.
Overall, these results are encouraging, but we can and will do better.
Building on our strengths, we will continue to equip our youngsters with a broad-based knowledge and high adaptability skills, as well as promote independent thinking and creativity.
We are also working hard to ensure that no one is left behind. From the coming academic year starting in September we will extend our nine-year free education to 12 years through public sector primary and secondary schools.
We will also soon implement a new academic structure for the senior secondary and undergraduate levels. This will enable us to provide a more diversified curriculum to our students, promoting their whole-person development.
Hong Kong is a city of few natural resources apart from our world famous deep-water port. We depend on the hard work and ingenuity of our people. It is vital that we create the right conditions to stimulate innovation and creativity. In his Budget in February, our Financial Secretary set aside 1.5 billion Euros for a research endowment fund to support research and development activities at our tertiary institutions.
The applied research these institutions provide will help the business community to come to grips with, and harness the very latest developments in science and technology.
Earlier I touched on the importance of our international school sector. More than 50 international schools operate in Hong Kong . They are a crucial part of our attractiveness to overseas businessmen and professionals coming to Hong Kong . Often their top priority in relocating to a new city is the education of their children.
The Norwegian International School is a case in point. The school was established in 1984, mainly to cater for children of Norwegian missionaries. It moved to its current premises, a listed Heritage Building in a leafy part of the New Territories , in 1994. That was also the year it opened to students from international backgrounds and it now offers kindergarten and primary classes.
Together, our international schools offer a wide variety of curricula including German-Swiss, French, Australian, Singaporean, Korean and Chinese, and of course, Norwegian. Many of the schools also offer International Baccalaureate programmes.
To help meet the strong demand for international school places, we are making more land available to build new schools or to expand existing ones.
We welcome students from every corner of the world. Indeed, we aim to become a regional centre for education in Asia . A diverse cultural and learning environment helps to broaden the horizons of students and generate innovative and independent thinking.
We will double the quota for non-local students, and relax employment and immigration restrictions to provide non-local students with the greatest flexibility possible in developing their career in Hong Kong .
They will be able to take up certain part-time jobs during their studies. After they graduate, overseas students will be given plenty of time to find a suitable job in the city if they wish to do so.
Another way of providing support to degrees or above is through scholarships. We are setting aside 80 million Euros to establish a Government Scholarship Fund for local and non-local students. We are confident that these measures will help attract energetic and high quality students to our community and enhance the learning experience in Hong Kong .
Ladies and gentlemen, I hope I have given you a general picture of what we are doing to raise the quality of education in Hong Kong . And why education is so important to Hong Kong ’s sustainable development.
We cannot progress in isolation. Above all, I hope my visit to Norway will help to enhance collaboration in education between our two places.
This academic year, more than 7,200 non-local students will study in our University Grants Committee funded programs. Five of these students are from Norway . I hope more will follow in their footsteps.
Student exchange is another area where we can strengthen our links. We already have arrangements with four institutions in Norway . We have 26 students from Norway taking part in the exchange programme this academic year, and 24 Hong Kong students will have taken up the opportunity to come to Norway .
I hope we can strengthen this mutual co-operation so that more of our students can experience different cultures, expand their knowledge and make new friends.
I thank you once again for your hospitality and I hope you will be able to pay us a visit in Hong Kong in the near future.