Speech by the Secretary for Education and Manpower－Professor Arthur K. C. Li
at the 2005 Annual Conference of Education Forum for Asia in Beijing
Minister Zhou, Distinguished Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen,
It is my pleasure and honor to address such a distinguished audience at the Second Annual Conference of the Education Forum for Asia. So, first of all, I would like to congratulate the Beijing Municipal Government, Bo'ao Forum for Asia, UNESCO and the China Scholarship Council for organizing this remarkable event.
The theme of this year's conference is “Education Development Strategies for Asian Countries in the New Century”. This is a timely subject for Hong Kong, as right now we are undergoing major education reforms that will fundamentally alter the academic structure of secondary and higher education, and revolutionalize the learning experience of our next generations. As the head for Education and Manpower of Hong Kong, I would like to share with you our experience in spearheading these reforms, as well as our vision for the future.
First, I'd like to talk about Hong Kong's challenges in the new centuries. Like many modern cities in the Asia Pacific Region, Hong Kong is moving fast into a knowledge-based economy. The 21st Century has brought new challenges to us, and calls for innovative solutions. But unlike many modern cities in the region, Hong Kong is small. We have no natural resources to rely on; our single and most important asset is our people.
Over the past decades, Hong Kong has strived to become the regional financial centre, and to lead in trade and high value-added services. These changes have exerted great pressure on our manpower supply. Total labor force in Hong Kong last year was just over three-and-a-half million, but our projections show that by 2007, we will have a shortfall of over 100,000 people with education at post-secondary level and above, and at the same time a surplus of 230,000 at or below upper secondary level. Clearly, the evolving job requirements are not in favour of persons with lower educational attainment. There is only one way to address this problem -- that is to upgrade the quality of our workforce, and we do this by upgrading our education services.
The second point I want to make is “Developing Hong Kong as the Regional Education Hub”.Where is this united force of Hong Kong's higher education to work? Hong Kong being Asia's world city, our vision and ambition do not stop at the boundary. We aspire to serve the neighboring areas, and be the Education Hub of the region.
Hong Kong has a diversified system of education with internationally recognized curriculum and assessment catering to the needs of both the local and international communities. Non-local students are also drawn to Hong Kong's unique blend of Chinese and Western cultures: to those from Mainland China, we offer an international perspective in a familiar context; to overseas students, we make knowledge of our hinterland and China business much more accessible.
We have also created an environment conducive to bringing different parts of the world together. All our tertiary institutions use English as the medium of instruction. Our Basic Law guarantees them institutional autonomy and academic freedom. We set no limit for the admission of non-local research students. For other publicly-funded programmes, non-local students can make up as much as 10% of the target student numbers.
Student exchanges are part of our universities' regular academic activities. They can freely deploy government funds for this purpose, and we also encourage them to offer scholarships to high caliber non-local students. As I mentioned earlier, we have set aside HK$1 billion to match private donations received by our institutions. This covers, among other things, scholarships for non-local students.
In terms of system readiness and the availability of resources, Hong Kong is fully geared up for internationalization. What we need now are more international partners to make this a success. Perhaps there is no better occasion than an international conference like this to make an appeal, so on behalf of the heads of our eight institutions who are here today, may I extend our invitation to you all to join us in our internationalization efforts.
Thirdly, I'd like to introduce the new “3+3+4” academic structure. I have taken you through the blooms and new directions in our education system, but none of these will be sustainable unless we are prepared to inject new life into the system itself. To this end, we will implement, from 2009 onwards, a new academic structure for senior secondary and higher education.
At the moment, our secondary school education follows a “3+2+2” structure. Under the new academic structure, all students will have the opportunity to enjoy three years of senior secondary education. Instead of drilling for two public exams in four years to get into universities, they will enjoy a much better structured curriculum, be able to spend more time on learning, and will have their educational attainment fairly assessed against recognized levels of competence.
At the tertiary education level, a four-year undergraduate program will replace the three-year one, giving our students more room for a more balanced personal development. The new academic structure will also align Hong Kong with a number of important international systems, thus facilitating the students' articulation to institutions outside Hong Kong.
Fundamentally changing the academic structure is a mammoth task. It cannot be achieved without the vision of educationalists, the determination of policy makers, and above all, the full support of all stakeholders – parents, students, teachers, institutions, taxpayers, basically everyone in the community. Hong Kong has taken many years to reach this consensus – and I am glad we did. In the coming years, the Government will have to put in capital funding amounting to HK$7.9 billion for works and one-off expenses, and thereafter an additional HK$2 billion each year to meet the recurrent costs. We have a long way to go, but we will press ahead with enthusiasm, knowing that we are making great strides in the right direction and implementing changes that will become a landmark of our education history.
Ladies and gentlemen, in the limited time available, I have attempted to give you a broad picture of the opportunities and challenges for the education system in Hong Kong. It would not surprise me if you find the things that we have done or plan to do are familiar to you at home. It is hardly an over-statement to say that, despite the differences in cultures and education systems, all governments and institutions are moving along similar tracks. We are all trying to address socio-economic and technological changes in the New Centuries. This is why I said that this conference is particularly timely and useful.
I hope the conference is just the beginning of a dialogue – we will take it forward through continuous collaboration and sharing. With this in mind, I wish you all a fruitful conference, and for overseas visitors, a most enjoyable stay in our country. Thank you.