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Education is key to success of economies

    The success of an economy hinges on solid investment and extensive collaboration in the pursuit of quality education, said the Secretary for Education and Manpower, Professor Arthur KC Li, today (April 18).

     On his return to Hong Kong with a delegation of senior government officials and heads/ deputy heads of local universities, Professor Li described as fruitful and stimulating the visits to Ireland and Switzerland between April 5 and 14.

     "The visits have been very useful in promoting exchanges and collaboration between Hong Kong and the two countries in the area of education," he said. "We also have a better understanding of their education systems, which helps us reflect on our own development."

     Commenting on the visit to Switzerland, Professor Li said that there were a lot of similarities between Switzerland and Hong Kong. "We are both economies supported by a strong financial services sector, and we rely very much on technology and tourism," he said. "Switzerland's education and manpower development strategies are therefore very relevant to us."

     The delegation is pleased to know that Switzerland is determined to reach out and internationalise. It is aligning its higher education system with that of other European countries to facilitate credit transfer. Beyond Europe, it has identified initially five target countries for educational collaboration and student exchanges, China, including Hong Kong, being one of them. To tie in with this development, the Swiss universities are offering more and more programmes taught in English, and charge non-local students the same highly subsidised tuition fee as local students.

     For Hong Kong universities, this is an opportunity not to be missed. At the centre of Europe, Switzerland accommodates different cultures in a multi-lingual environment, and presents great learning opportunities for Hong Kong students and academics. The Swiss universities also appreciate that at the international level, Hong Kong ranks first in Chemistry and among the top 10 in Biology in citations per capita, so they are eager to establish closer ties with the SAR.

     Taking the advantage of this visit, the Hong Kong delegation has explored the possibility of having further collaboration with Switzerland in terms of student exchanges and joint research projects. Regarding the latter in particular, both sides will consider earmarking funds to support collaborative projects, and the arrangement can be formalised by the signing of agreements between the governments, if necessary.

     Earlier on, in Ireland, Professor Li noted that the country was a good example of how investment in education had paid off. "The country has invested heavily in education and technology in the past 15 years by upgrading school facilities and enriching the curriculum for both mainstream and vocational education," he said.

     "Compared to other countries which joined the European Community at around the same time but did not make similar investments in education, Ireland has seen much more remarkable economic growth in GDP in the same period, almost by the double digit every year." So there is good reason for the SAR government to be spending almost a quarter of its recurrent expenditure on education.

     The education authorities in Ireland and Hong Kong share a common vision in promoting whole-person development of their students. Both are enriching the senior secondary curriculum with career-oriented elements and other learning experiences.

     A special strength of the Irish education system is its highly qualified teaching profession. "Ireland is able to attract the best students to join the teaching profession, and they set stringent requirements regarding teachers' qualifications," said Professor Li.

     Similar to Hong Kong, the Irish authorities have been constructing their Qualifications Framework for both academic and vocational qualifications. Professor Li believes that having a Qualifications Framework is now a global trend. "It is an essential tool for promoting lifelong learning," he said, "and it is only in the interests of Hong Kong to have it in place as soon as possible."

      The Accreditation of Academic and Vocational Qualifications Bill, which gives legal backing to Hong Kong's Qualifications Register, is being scrutinised by the Legislative Council, and it is hoped that deliberations at the Bills Committee can be concluded within this legislative year.

Ends/Tuesday, April 18, 2006
Issued at HKT 19:00