8 July 2010 (Thursday)
Seminar on “Nurturing Talents for Asia” in Tokyo, Japan
Speech by Mr Michael M Y Suen, GBS, JP
Secretary for Education
Distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen,
Konnichiwa. It is my great pleasure to join you here today.
First of all, I should apologise for not being able to speak any Japanese at all to deliver this speech in your language. However, I should tell you that - after Hong Kong's official languages of English and Chinese - Japanese is the most popular language for our students to learn. I'm sure this bodes well for continued friendship and strong ties between Hong Kong and Japan.
I am delighted to be joined on this trip to Japan by a number of Hong Kong's leading academics representing some of our top universities. No doubt, this seminar will be extremely positive and fruitful for everyone involved.
It is my pleasure today to provide an overview of education in Hong Kong. I will also update you on some of the measures our Government is taking to nurture talents for Asia.
Indeed, this topic underscores the great opportunities as well as challenges for economies in our region in the face of rapid and dynamic change.
Much of this recent change has been brought about by the global financial crisis in 2008. Many economists agree that Asia has emerged strongly from the financial turmoil. As key business and financial centres in the region, Hong Kong and Tokyo stand to benefit from this shift in focus towards Asia.
To prepare for the opportunities and challenges ahead, all governments are keen to develop quality human capital. This is particularly important for Hong Kong because we have few other natural resources apart from the brainpower of our people.
We are committed to maintaining a strong education system and promoting collaboration in education with our neighbours in Asia. That way, we can all benefit from the new opportunities in our region.
In Hong Kong, for every four dollars the Government spends, one dollar goes to education. It is our largest recurrent expenditure item. Although this highlights the Government's commitment to education, money alone cannot resolve the complicated issues facing the sector today.
To keep pace with the changing environment and respond to trends in learning, Hong Kong's education system has undergone considerable reform over the past decade.
At the core of this reform process is the belief that Hong Kong's economic future lies in its strength as a knowledge-based economy. We need to nurture talents who can deliver high value-added services and compete with their peers in other countries.
Our priority focus areas include research and development, science, environmental technologies, creative industries and financial services.
Today, our education reform is at a critical phase. A new academic structure was implemented from last September. Our vision is two-fold: to offer a learning journey for all our youngsters to succeed in the globalised world and to enhance our human capital.
In terms of structure, we provide 12 years of free education, including six years of primary education and six years of secondary education. This is followed by a new four-year undergraduate curriculum.
From 2012, the current two public examinations, equivalent to the "O Level" and "A Level" of GCE examinations in Britain, will be replaced by one public exam after Year 12, leading to the Hong Kong Diploma of Secondary Education, or the HKDSE.
This will relieve the exam pressure on students while providing them with an internationally recognised certificate when they leave school.
In terms of curriculum, all students study a broad and balanced senior secondary curriculum, including four core subjects; Chinese Language, English Language, Mathematics and Liberal Studies.
The four core subjects will enable students to develop their language proficiency as well as raise their mathematics standards, which are already very high in Hong Kong.
Students will also be encouraged to develop critical thinking and inquiry skills through exploring contemporary issues and positive citizenship in Liberal Studies. Most important of all, we strive to equip our young people with the ability and desire to pursue lifelong learning.
Our new academic system will align Hong Kong with a number of important international systems including those of USA and Mainland China, and allow better international articulation.
The new senior secondary curricula have also been internationally benchmarked. In particular, the HKDSE has been included in the Universities and Colleges Admission Service (UCAS) Tariff system. This is a useful reference for students applying to enter universities in Britain. At the same time, the Australian Government has also recognised the HKDSE as comparable to the Australian Senior Secondary Certificate of Education.
These will give a better comparison between the HKDSE and other overseas qualifications, such as International Baccalaureate (IB). It also facilitates the next phase of the benchmarking exercise with more international agencies and other countries such as Canada and USA.
Now to a critical part of the reform journey - universities. Our universities are taking this opportunity of having an additional undergraduate year to rethink their undergraduate strategies and revamp their curricula accordingly. The Government gives full support to our universities and, more importantly, they have a free hand in the whole process of re-engineering.
Although we do not have a pre-defined plan on what the four-year undergraduate programme should be, the programme is expected to give universities more time and space to provide a broader and more diversified learning experience.
This will widen students' horizons and expose them to both specialised and general knowledge for more balanced "whole-person" development. Some of our university representatives who are here today will be happy to update you on their work in this process.
No doubt Hong Kong will benefit in terms of upgraded human resources through education reform.
At the same time, the nature of our reforms is also designed to nurture talents for Asia - people who can flourish in this era of regionalisation and globalisation.
Turning to collaboration in education between Hong Kong and Japan.
Last September, our Chief Executive outlined Hong Kong's plan to develop education services as one of the six economic areas where our city has a clear advantage. We plan to further internationalise and diversify our education sector to achieve this goal.
Indeed, Hong Kong has a lot to offer students in Asia. We are a modern city with a diverse cultural blend of East and West and a prominent location in the heart of East Asia. We also have world class learning institutions. In fact, three of our universities were ranked among the top 50 universities in the world by the respected Times Higher Education Supplement in 2009. We also hosted the world's number one EMBA programme in 2007 and 2009.
Students - particularly business students - are keen to take advantage of our proximity to, and integration with, markets in the Mainland of China which is the world's fastest growing large economy. Hong Kong has acute understanding of the business acumen on the Mainland as well as close social and cultural ties with our neighbouring provinces.
At the same time, Hong Kong is a safe, vibrant and welcoming place for overseas people to live, work and study.
As I mentioned earlier, both English and Chinese are official languages in Hong Kong. We also have a lively cosmopolitan environment with a free flow of information, ideas and people. This has helped to attract faculty members from around the world who have brought with them a wealth of international experience and networks. Students from different parts of the world find it relatively easy to adapt to our academic environment.
To further attract non-local students to Hong Kong, we have established government scholarships and relaxed our immigration and employment restrictions for non-local students.
About 13% of the students in our publicly-funded programmes are from outside Hong Kong. Currently, nine of them are from Japan and there is plenty of room for more.
Another 3,000 students come to Hong Kong every year on exchange. Last year, more than 60 students participated in the exchange programmes between Hong Kong and Japan. We are encouraging more students from both places to join these programmes.
We like to call Hong Kong "Asia's world city" because of its global connections, multicultural flavour and reputation as an international business and financial centre. This international flair extends to our education sector.
More than 50 international schools, including the Japanese International School, operate in Hong Kong. They offer a wide range of curricula of the different countries.
Many of these schools also offer International Baccalaureate programmes. Together they provide some 35,000 places for primary and secondary students. To meet additional demand, we have identified four new sites to expand existing schools and build new ones. This is part of our determination to develop education services and establish this sector as a key driver for sustainable economic growth.
Turning now to tertiary education in Hong Kong, one particularly exciting area is the development of self-financing institutions at this level. Looking at the experience of other economies, we see tremendous scope for the self-financing sector to complement our public education sector. We can also learn a great deal from Japan's experience in self-financing education. We have already implemented a number of measures on this front. They include providing land resources to support the growth of the self-financing sector. We recently set aside six sites for the development of this sector. One of these sites can provide over 100,000 square metres of gross floor area and is expected to offer some 8,000 self-financing degree places.
We also offer start-up loans for institutions to build their campuses and provide funding support to help them enhance the quality of teaching and learning in their programmes. We will continue to encourage the development of the sector to diversify the overall learning environment in Hong Kong.
Apart from local programmes, we also have a number of non-local programmes. These are offered by non-local institutions which award overseas qualifications. For example, the University of Hong Kong has joined the London School of Business and Columbia University to offer an MBA programme.
There is also a non-local programme offered by Osaka University of Foreign Studies operating in Hong Kong. This spirit of collaboration is another way forward in nurturing talents for Asia.
Ladies and gentlemen, I am confident that our education reforms, open door policies for overseas students and the modern city lifestyle of Hong Kong will continue to attract talented young people to our city. We certainly welcome more students from Japan.
I am also confident that closer collaboration in education between Hong Kong and Japan will benefit both our economies in this new global economic climate.
Thank you very much.