SED's speech at Federation for Continuing Education in Tertiary Institutions Roundtable (English only)

     Following is a speech by the Secretary for Education, Mr Michael Suen, at the 15th anniversary roundtable of The Federation for Continuing Education in Tertiary Institutions today (November 19):

Dr Charles Wong, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen,

     Good morning.  First of all, I would like to congratulate the Federation on its 15th anniversary.  On this memorable occasion, it is timely to reflect on the past achievements of the post-secondary education sector and, more importantly, to ponder the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead in the years to come.

     Over the last 15 years, the post-secondary education sector in Hong Kong has made remarkable achievements.  In the early 1990s, only about 30% of secondary school leavers proceeded to receive post-secondary education. Public funding was then the major source of funding for the sector.  With the concerted efforts of key players, particularly the member institutions of the Federation, the post-secondary sector has developed in leaps and bounds, opening up new opportunities that were previously beyond the reach of many secondary school leavers.

     A notable example is Project Yi Jin.  With the sterling support of the Federation, we launched Project Yi Jin in 2000 to provide an alternative progression ladder for secondary school leavers who cannot pursue education in the mainstream schools.  In a short span of nine years, the full-time student enrolment has increased by four times from around 3,000 in 2000 to a record high of about 12,000 this year.  This project serves as a springboard for young and adult learners to enter the work force or pursue continuing education.  I understand that some of them even move on to the university level.  These success stories underline the importance of providing a wide range of options for our youngsters to flourish and develop their potential.

     The development of the sub-degree sector is equally, if not more, impressive.  Today, close to 70% of our secondary school leavers proceed to receive post-secondary education, more than double the figure of 30% a decade ago.  There are around 27,000 sub-degree students at intake level, and every three out of four of them are in the self-financing sector.  The remarkable achievements made by the post-secondary sector over the past few years is a tribute to the contributions made by the Federation and its member institutions.  At present, member institutions of the Federation offer over 90% of the self-financing post-secondary programmes.  Project Yi Jin is also exclusively designed by and operated by member institutions of the Federation.  

     The year of 2009 is not just special for the Federation.  It also marks a milestone for the education sector in Hong Kong.  After years of preparation, the new academic structure has formally started this year, changing the landscape of the whole education sector.

     In this regard, I am pleased to note that the Federation and other stakeholders have been working closely with my bureau on this very important matter.  Specifically, I am grateful to the Federation for undertaking a number of important studies, including drawing up a new set of common descriptors for the sub-degree programmes and devising a new curriculum structure for the New Project Yi Jin under the new academic structure.

     In the run-up to the year 2012 when the first cohort of secondary six students under the new academic structure will graduate, the post-secondary education sector has to gear up itself for the changes and challenges ahead.  Two years from now, we will face a gap year in 2011 when there will be no secondary five graduates.  In the following year, 2012, we will have double cohorts, comprising the last cohort of secondary seven graduates under the old structure as well as the first cohort of new secondary six graduates.  Many of you are already in the process of revising the curriculum of your sub-degree programmes to ensure a smooth transition.  Staffing and administrative arrangements are also being made to accommodate the changes.  This roundtable provides an excellent forum for experts and stakeholders to share their experience in making the preparations for the challenge.

     Indeed, the post-secondary sector is full of potential and opportunities.  Two months ago, the Chief Executive announced in his Policy Address that we would seek to facilitate the development of education services, as one of the six priority industries in Hong Kong, as a means to boost the overall competitiveness of our economy.  Our vision is to enhance Hong Kong's status as a regional education hub through internationalisation and diversification of our education sector.

     Internationalisation will not only broaden the outlook and exposure of our institutions and students, but also inject fresh impetus in the higher education sector as a whole.  As Asia's World City, Hong Kong enjoys a number of competitive advantages, including our excellent geographical location, unique position in blending Chinese and Western cultures, our world-class universities and our students with broad exposure.  The Government announced in the 2007 Policy Address and also in the Policy Address this year a number of measures to support internationalisation of the education sector.  These include increasing non-local student admission quotas, relaxing immigration and employment restrictions, and providing government scholarships to both local and non-local students.  Our measures have borne some fruit.  The number of non-local students in Hong Kong reached 9,200 in the 2008/09 academic year, representing a 50% growth over that of the academic year 2005/06.  I understand that some member institutions of the Federation have started this year to recruit a lot more non-local students than in the past.

     Apart from local courses, there are over 1,200 non-local higher education and professional programmes with over 30,000 students.  These courses are providing non-local higher education opportunities for our students in Hong Kong.  Many of them are offered by member institutions of the Federation.  We will also explore the possibility of allowing Mainland students to enroll in non-local courses at degree or above level.  We hope to attract more world renowned institutions to offer courses in Hong Kong.

     The second strand of our policy is to encourage diversification, particularly in the higher education sector.  At present, our higher education sector is primarily publicly funded.  In 2009/10, the total recurrent government expenditure on education amounts to $54 billion, or about one-quarter of the total government expenditure. Of this provision, about $12 billion is spent on higher education. While the Government remains committed to providing adequate resources for education, there is clearly a need to diversify our higher education sector and make better use of the resources in the non-government sector.  Experience in many other developed economies also suggests to us that the self-financing sector can play a very important role in the provision of higher education.  As I highlighted earlier in my speech, the past development of the sub-degree sector would not have been possible without the support and participation of the self-financing sector.

     Before closing, I would like to highlight our key guiding principle in our pursuit of the development of education services in Hong Kong, that is, to uphold the quality of education.  Our aim is not to establish over a short period of time a large number of private universities in Hong Kong.  We should take a long-term view of the development of education services in Hong Kong.  In all our endeavours, quality rather than quantity comes first.

     I congratulate the Federation for its achievement over the past 15 years and I wish this roundtable every success.  The Federation has been a very close partner of the Education Bureau and I have no doubt that we will continue to work hand in hand to ensure the healthy development of the sector in the years to come.
     Thank you.

Ends/Thursday, November 19, 2009
Issued at HKT 12:49