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LCQ12: Shortage of accounting professionals in Hong Kong

    Following is a question by the Hon Tam Heung-man and a written reply by the Secretary for Financial Services and the Treasury, Professor K C Chan, in the Legislative Council today (January 9):


     A few accountants who are teaching in tertiary institutions have recently told me that there is a very serious shortage of accounting professionals in Hong Kong in recent years.  In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:

(a)  whether it will, as a substantial fiscal surplus is forecast to be recorded for this financial year, consider providing more subsidies to various tertiary institutions to increase the places for accounting, financial and monetary studies; if it will, of the details; if not, the reasons for that;

(b)  given that the shortage of accounting technicians have forced accountants to take up some of the work originally handled by accounting technicians, whether it will consider allocating more resources or adopting other policies to provide more training places for accounting technicians; if it will, of the specific policies; if not, the reasons for that; and

(c)  whether it will relax the relevant immigration policies to facilitate more overseas accountants coming to Hong Kong and more overseas Hong Kong accountants returning to Hong Kong to engage in the accounting business; if it will, of the specific policies?


Madam President,

(a)  Our tertiary institutions are currently offering various post-secondary programmes in accounting and finance-related disciplines.  In the 2006/07 academic year, there were about 12,000 students (in full-time-equivalent terms) studying business and management discipline (including accounting) undergraduate programmes at the eight University Grants Committee (UGC)-funded institutions, constituting 23.5% of the total student population.

     The eight UGC-funded institutions are autonomous statutory bodies governed by their own legislation.  They enjoy institutional autonomy in their academic and curriculum development, including the provision of accounting and related professional programmes.  Institutions will balance various factors, such as the Administration's advice on manpower requirements for specific sectors and professions, community needs, institutional capacity, role of individual institutions and their future development plans, number of academic staff available, admission quality and demand from other academic departments, etc, and propose student intakes to various academic programmes in their academic development proposals.

     To assess the manpower demand and supply situation in Hong Kong, including the requirements of the accountancy sector, the Administration has been conducting periodic manpower projection exercises.  We conducted an exercise in 2003 with projections up to 2007 and are now conducting another round with projections up to 2013.  The Accountancy Training Board under the Vocational Training Council also conducts manpower surveys for the accountancy sector.  Both exercises provide valuable information for the tertiary and post-secondary institutions to plan programmes that would meet the manpower requirements of the accountancy sector.

     In addition, it should be noted that there are many different entry routes for individuals who are interested in pursuing qualification in accountancy and full-time degree courses offered by tertiary institutions is only one of them.  

     The Hong Kong Institute of Certified Public Accountants (HKICPA), as the statutory body responsible for qualification and registration of accountants in Hong Kong under the Professional Accountants Ordinance (Cap. 50), regulates the quality of entry to the profession through its Qualification Programme (QP).  Those who are graduates of recognised accountancy degrees offered by tertiary institutions in Hong Kong are eligible for direct entry to the QP.  Holders of recognised non-accountancy degrees can also apply for QP admission by taking HKICPA's Conversion Programmes.  In addition, those who have obtained qualification from accountancy bodies overseas enjoy full or substantial exemptions from the QP if the relevant overseas body has signed recognition agreement with the HKICPA.  To date, HKICPA has signed recognition agreements with 11 overseas accountancy bodies around the world, amongst them are the most prestigious chartered accountant institutes operating in the world's major capital markets.

     With the many different routes to qualify as accountants and as the economy thrives, more and more people are interested in obtaining accounting training.  This is reflected by the statistics of HKICPA - the number of enrolments, students and graduates for QP reached record highs in 2007.  In fact, since QP's inception in 1999, around 2,400 graduates have qualified and there are over 10,000 students currently taking the QP.  The HKICPA expects to continue to set new records in the coming year and is confident in handling the increasing demand.

     To foster better coordination of efforts between the industry and academia on financial services manpower development, the Administration set up the Advisory Committee on Human Resources Development in the Financial Services Sector (the FinMan Committee) in 2000.  The Administration attaches great importance to the training and nurturing of talents to maintain the competitiveness of Hong Kong as an international financial centre, including the provision of accounting professionals, which is a major pillar of the financial services industry.  

     The Administration will continue to work through the FinMan Committee and other channels to monitor the manpower situation in the accountancy sector and to facilitate useful exchange of views between tertiary institutions, training service providers and financial industry employers.

(b)  On the training for accounting technicians, at present, there are some 26 public as well as private post-secondary institutions that provide relevant courses.  Such course providers are mainly self-financing.  To gauge market demands and to design courses that are geared towards market needs, the providers have regular liaison with the stakeholders in the industry.  The manpower survey on the accountancy sector conducted by the Accountancy Training Board also provides useful reference on future market demands for accounting technicians.  

     According to the Hong Kong Institute of Accredited Accounting Technicians Limited (HKIAAT), which is the only local organisation that offers both a qualification and a designation for those seeking a career as an accounting technician, its membership has increased to over 1,500 since its launch in 2004.  Since examinations were introduced in 1989, a total of 7,634 graduates have successfully completed the Accounting Technicians Examination and the accumulated total number of awardees for Certified Accounts Clerk is 493.  The number of registered students stood at 7,198 as at end of December 2007.  

     To provide support to students seeking to train as accounting technicians, the HKIAAT maintains a register of course providers for students' reference and organises seminars, revision courses and issues technical updates.  The Administration also provides funding support to those students who enroll in accounting technician courses that are registered under the Continuing Education Fund (CEF courses).  Eligible applicants enrolled in such CEF courses will be reimbursed 80% of their tuition fees, subject to a maximum sum of $10,000 per person, on successful completion of the approved CEF courses.

(c)  On the facilitation of overseas accountants coming to Hong Kong, the Administration strongly believes that a larger pool of talents will enhance Hong Kong's competitiveness.

     Many factors affect the attractiveness of Hong Kong to non-local talents.  Such factors include the business/job opportunities, tax regime and the environment etc.  For entry for employment as professionals, there are basically only two key requirements: (i) the applicant has secured a job that cannot be readily taken up by the local workforce; and (ii) the remuneration package is commensurate with the prevailing market rate.  There is no quota, nor any restrictions on the employment sector. Since the reunification, over 200,000 talents/professionals have entered Hong Kong through these arrangements.  

     In addition, in the context of developing Hong Kong into a regional educational hub, the Administration will further liberalise our immigration regime to facilitate the retention of non-local graduates. From the 2008/09 academic year onwards, non-local graduates who have obtained a degree or higher qualification in a full-time programme in Hong Kong, upon application to the Immigration Department, may be granted 12 months' stay without any condition and are free to take up any employment. Furthermore, non-local persons having obtained a degree or above qualification in Hong Kong may apply to return for employment, so long as the job is at a level commonly taken up by degree holders and the remuneration package is set at market rate.  These new initiatives will make Hong Kong one of most liberal places in the retention of non-local graduates.

     The Administration is also reviewing the Quality Migrant Admission Scheme, with a view to casting our net wider for quality migrants.  We aim to complete the review in early 2008 and put in place the review recommendations as soon as possible.

     In respect of facilitating overseas accountants and Hong Kong accountants living abroad to qualify for practice in Hong Kong, the HKICPA operates an open policy to encourage suitable members of overseas accountancy bodies to join the Institute as CPAs in Hong Kong.  As mentioned in (a) above, members of 11 recognised accountancy bodies around the world are eligible for full or substantial exemptions from the HKICPA examination (i.e. QP) for membership under the respective agreements.

     Moreover, members of any one of the 134 member bodies of the International Federation of Accountants who do not fall under any of the recognition agreement are eligible for registration as International Affiliates of HKICPA and may engage in accounting work in Hong Kong.  HKICPA offers technical updates and support to these members and some Hong Kong CPA firms also offer placement programmes for overseas qualified accountants to work in Hong Kong, thereby fulfilling the practical experience requirement for membership and Practising Certificate issuance purposes.

Ends/Wednesday, January 9, 2008
Issued at HKT 13:36


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