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LCQ9: Measures to improve the competitiveness of Hong Kong
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     Following is a question by the Hon Abraham Shek and a written reply by the Secretary for Education, Mr Michael Suen, in the Legislative Council today (November 30):

Question:

     According to The Global Competitiveness Report 2011-2012 of the World Economic Forum (the Report), Hong Kong's position in the overall rankings of the Global Competitiveness Index among 142 countries/economies remains the same (i.e. 11th) as that in 2010-2011.  In the Report, it is recommended that Hong Kong should continue to seek improvements in higher education and innovation in order to maintain its competitiveness.  In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:

(a) whether the Government will further step up its efforts in increasing the participation rate in education so as to improve educational outcomes which can help boost the innovative capacity of Hong Kong; and

(b) given that according to the Report, Hong Kong's innovative capacity remains constrained by the limited availability of scientists and engineers, and Hong Kong ranks 43rd in this regard, what measures the Government has in place at present to foster talents, particularly in the areas of science and engineering; whether it will consider introducing new measures to increase the number of scientists and engineers available in Hong Kong?


Reply:

President,

     Hong Kong is widely recognised as one of the most competitive economies in the world.  Apart from being ranked 11th in the World Economic Forum's Global Competitiveness Report 2011-2012 (the Report), Hong Kong shares with the United States the first place in the World Competitiveness Yearbook 2011 published by the International Institute for Management Development based in Lausanne, Switzerland in May this year.

(a) Education is conducive to not only the enhancement of the quality and competitiveness of our population, but also the promotion of social mobility.  Post-secondary education plays a particularly important role in nurturing the right people for Hong Kong to develop into a knowledge-based and high value-added economy. The Government attaches importance to the development of post-secondary education.  At present, our annual recurrent expenditure on education exceeds $54 billion, which is more than one-fifth of the total recurrent expenditure of the Government, and about a quarter of the recurrent education expenditure is allocated to post-secondary education.

     We will continue to adopt a two-pronged strategy of promoting the parallel development of the publicly-funded sector and the self-financing sector.  Our objective is to provide young people with quality, diversified and flexible study pathways with multiple entry and exit points, so that they can equip and continue to upgrade themselves and contribute to society.

     To meet the future development needs of Hong Kong, we will invest heavily in the publicly-funded sector.  Starting from the 2012/13 academic year, the number of first-year-first-degree places funded by the University Grants Committee (UGC) will be increased to 15 000, while the number of senior year undergraduate intake places will be doubled by phases to 4 000.  Taking into account the increase in undergraduates after the implementation of the New Academic Structure, we expect that the number of undergraduates in publicly-funded institutions will surge by about 40% by 2016.  By the 2014/15 academic year, the annual recurrent grants for UGC-funded institutions will increase by $3 billion to about $14 billion.

     The Government encourages the development of the self-financing post-secondary sector through a series of support measures, including granting land at nominal premium and providing start-up loans, quality enhancement grants and accreditation grants.  We have also expanded the student financial assistance schemes so that students pursuing locally accredited self-financing post-secondary programmes are eligible for means-tested grants and loans, as well as non-means-tested loans, on largely the same basis as students of publicly-funded programmes.

     We estimate that by 2015, over one-third of the relevant age cohort will have the opportunity to pursue degree-level education. Including sub-degree places, over two-thirds of our young people in the relevant age group will have access to post-secondary education.

(b) The Government has spared no efforts in nurturing local technology and engineering talent. In the 2010/11 academic year, around 27 000 students were enrolled in UGC-funded programmes in science, engineering and technology disciplines, representing about 36% of the total enrolment. In the 2009/10 to 2011/12 triennium, the Government also provided 800 additional research postgraduate places. This demonstrates our strong commitment to nurturing talent for innovation activities.

     To encourage more university graduates to pursue a career in the science and technology field, the Government launched the Innovation and Technology Scholarship Award Scheme earlier this year. The scheme gives recognition to high-achieving science undergraduates from local universities. Under this scheme, undergraduates will be awarded scholarships to participate in overseas attachment, internship and mentorship programmes.  We hope to nurture more future leaders in scientific research through this scheme.

     Equally important is to attract research talent from outside Hong Kong.  In 2009, the Research Grants Council launched the Hong Kong PhD Fellowship Scheme to attract the best and brightest students from around the world to pursue PhD studies in Hong Kong. A total of 4 024 applications from 103 countries/regions were received for the 2011/12 academic year, and 118 elite candidates from 17 countries/regions were eventually offered PhD fellowships in Hong Kong.

     At the primary and secondary levels, we have been actively pursuing curriculum reform and seek to promote scientific thinking, investigative skills and problem solving abilities through the curriculum. We seek to nurture students with a proactive attitude and positive values, and encourage them to participate in local and international science and technology competitions, so as to promote students' interest in science and technology and broaden their horizons. We also provide advanced training for outstanding students in science or technology so as to maximise their potential.

     The Government is committed to arousing interest in innovation and technology in the community, particularly among young people, and deepening their understanding in this area.  Apart from the annual flagship event X InnoTech Month, the Government also supports various science competitions and promote a vibrant innovation and technology culture in the community through our public education programme.

     We note that the indicator of availability of scientists and engineers in the Report is based on an executive opinion survey conducted by the World Economic Forum rather than hard data.  Hong Kong's score in this indicator is comparable to some developed economies (such as Germany, Italy and Australia).

Ends/Wednesday, November 30, 2011
Issued at HKT 12:51

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