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Education, housing, welfare, youth and cultural initiatives highlight Policy Address
     The Chief Executive, Mrs Carrie Lam, in her Policy Address today (October 11), outlined a variety of policies and plans targeting education, youth, livelihood and liveability in Hong Kong.

     "Talent is the most important element in Hong Kong's continued development, and education is the key to nurturing talent," Mrs Lam said.

     Mrs Lam proposed in her Election Manifesto an increase of recurrent education expenditure by $5 billion a year. She said that the $3.6 billion first-phase measures were announced soon after her assumption of office in July. The remaining $1.4 billion recurrent funding would be put to good use, she added. She also announced that the Education Bureau would set up task forces this year to take forward the reviews on eight key areas of education, including professional development of teachers, curriculum arrangement, assessment system, vocational and professional education and training, self-financing post-secondary education, school-based management, parent education and University Grants Committee (UGC)'s funding on research and student hostels.

     She said a $12 billion Hostel Development Fund would be established. It would provide unit-cost subsidies for the construction of university housing, offering more students the opportunity to experience living on campus.

     An additional $1.2 billion will be injected into the Qualifications Framework (QF) Fund, to enhance the international recognition of the Hong Kong QF and promote the mobility of Hong Kong students with recognised qualifications.

     Mrs Lam said that $3 billion would be added to the Research Endowment Fund, providing studentships for local students admitted to UGC-funded research postgraduate programmes. The Chief Executive said she hoped the funding would incentivise more local students to engage in research work in support of the development of innovation and technology.

     To promote lifelong learning and expand the scope of courses offered, the Chief Executive said the Government would add $1.5 billion to the Continuing Education Fund, extending the Fund’s operation to 2024.

     The Pilot Scheme on On-site Pre-school Rehabilitation Services will be converted into a regular programme beginning with the 2018/19 school year, Mrs Lam said, adding that $460 million would be earmarked annually for the recurrent expenditure of the programme, while service places would expand to 7,000 from about 3,000 in two years’ time. The hope, she said, was to achieve the policy objective of "zero-waiting time" for pre-school rehabilitation services.

     Chinese history would be made an independent compulsory subject for junior secondary level in the 2018/19 school year. "We expect that through the learning of Chinese history and meaningful activities, students will develop positive values and attitudes, become knowledgeable and responsible citizens with a sense of our national identity, and contribute to our country and our society," Mrs Lam said.

     She also said that the Government is committed to strengthening Hong Kong's position as a talent hub, nurturing talent for the local community and neighbouring places.

     On land supply, Mrs Lam said the Government would continue to increase supply of different types of land to meet the needs for economic development and that the recently established Task Force on Land Supply would launch a public engagement exercise in the first half of 2018. On housing, the housing policy will focus on home ownership and strive to build a housing ladder as well as to shorten the waiting time for public rental housing.

     Moving up the housing rung, she proposed to introduce affordable "Starter Homes" for Hong Kong's middle-class families. "Our initial thinking is to incorporate provisions into the land lease to require developers to pursue mixed developments, i.e., to design, build and offer for sale a specified number of 'Starter Homes' units in addition to private housing units, and to sell these units to target buyers who meet the eligibility criteria set by the Government," she said. Details are expected to be announced in mid-2018.

     Mrs Lam said the Government would strive to do its best in youth development work by addressing their concerns about education, career pursuit and home ownership, and encouraging their participation in politics as well as public policy discussion and debate.

     "As a start, we will invite young people to become members of specified boards and committees by self-recommendation through the pilot member self-recommendation scheme," Mrs Lam said. The Government will recruit young people who aspire to be engaged in policy research as well as policy and project co-ordination to join the Policy Innovation and Co-ordination Unit proposed to be established as non-civil service contract staff so that they could make a contribution in shaping the future Hong Kong.

     A youth ambassador scheme will be launched by the Home Affairs Bureau to strengthen the youth network across Hong Kong's 18 districts, and a Youth Development Commission will be set up in the first half of 2018. Mrs Lam added that she would chair youth summits to listen to the views of young people.

     Striving to promote labour rights, the Government hoped to put forward a proposal that takes into account the interests of both the labour sector and the business sector in the coming months to abolish the "offsetting" arrangement under the Mandatory Provident Fund System. The Labour and Welfare Bureau has also completed the review on the statutory paternity leave and initially proposes to increase paternity leave from the current three days to five days. The Labour Department will report the outcome of the review to the Labour Advisory Board and the Legislative Council Panel on Manpower and consult their views within this year.

     The Government will also boost support for working families in financial need.

     Mrs Lam announced that the current Low-income Working Family Allowance Scheme would be renamed the Working Family Allowance Scheme and revised to increase allowances and benefit more people. The Scheme would be extended to cover individuals as well as families.

     To help children from low-income families, Mrs Lam said the Child Development Fund would receive a $300 million injection. The Fund was set up to support the long-term development of children from disadvantaged backgrounds. The Chief Executive also said that a Commission on Children would be established in mid-2018 to address the many issues faced by children in Hong Kong.

     For Hong Kong's growing elderly population, the Government will set up a $1 billion fund. The initiative is designed to improve the quality of life of Hong Kong's elderly and reduce the burden and pressure on care staff by subsidising elderly service units in procuring technology products.

     Mrs Lam said the Government would be "actively promoting primary healthcare, enhancing public health regulation and promoting advancements in medical technology".

     "To further illustrate the effectiveness of medical-social collaboration, I have asked the Food and Health Bureau to set up a district health centre with a brand new operation mode in Kwai Tsing District within two years. The Government will provide funding for the centre according to the needs and characteristics of the district, with a view to enhancing public awareness of disease prevention and their capability in self-management of health through public-private partnership, providing support for the chronically ill as well as relieving the pressure on specialist and hospital services," Mrs Lam said.

     She added that the Government would expand its support for the development of Chinese medicine in Hong Kong, including the building of a dedicated Chinese medicine hospital at a site in Tseung Kwan O and the establishment of a Government Chinese Medicines Testing Institute.

     To improve building safety in Hong Kong, Mrs Lam said the Government has identified various initiatives, including launching Operation Building Bright 2.0, with funding of $3 billion to subsidise owner-occupiers of old residential buildings. Another $2 billion will be earmarked to subsidise owners of old composite buildings to adopt fire-safety enhancement measures.

     An air quality review will be completed next year and, beginning in 2019, the Government plans to mandate that vessels in Hong Kong waters use low sulphur fuel. Mrs Lam said that this "will set a leading example in Asia".

     For users of public transport, the Chief Executive announced a non-means-tested Public Transport Fare Subsidy Scheme. "We anticipate that over 2 million commuters will benefit from the scheme, which will cover the fares of MTR, franchised buses, green minibuses, ferries and trams," Mrs Lam said.

     On providing support for the ethnic minorities, Mrs Lam said the Government seeks to provide the ethnic minorities with equal opportunities and facilitate their integration into the community through enhancing relevant legislation as well as enhancing employment and other support services for the ethnic minorities. The Government will carry out a comprehensive review on the entry requirements relating to Chinese proficiency for all the grades of the civil service with a view to increasing government job opportunities for the ethnic minorities. The Government will also launch a cross-disciplined forces training programme targeting youths from ethnic minorities to further assist the ethnic minorities to integrate into society and to cultivate positive values.

     The Chief Executive also pledged to create more opportunities for Hong Kong artists and more resources in support of the local arts and culture sector. A Space Sharing Scheme for Youth will start next year, encouraging owners of revitalised industrial and commercial buildings to offer space for workshops and co-working spaces. Mrs Lam said that the aim is "to support start-ups of emerging industries and young people who are starting their own businesses, and to support the development of arts and culture".
Ends/Wednesday, October 11, 2017
Issued at HKT 13:54
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