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LCQ9: Continuing education
     Following is a question by Reverend Canon the Hon Peter Douglas Koon and a written reply by the Secretary for Labour and Welfare, Mr Chris Sun, in the Legislative Council today (November 30):


     A study report has pointed out that Hong Kong has a relatively low continuing education participation rate which remains at around 20 per cent and is substantially lagging behind Singapore's 49 per cent, reflecting that Hong Kong people have a weak continuing education culture. In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:

(1) whether it has looked into the reasons why the continuing education participation rate in Hong Kong is relatively low; if so, of the outcome; if not, the reasons for that;

(2) of the respective numbers of applicants (with a breakdown by the age group (i.e. aged 18 to 29, 30 to 39, 40 to 49, 50 to 59, 60 to 70, and above 70) to which the applicants belonged) and applications (with a breakdown by course type) in respect of which the Continuing Education Fund (CEF) granted subsidies in each of the past five years and since January this year; the average amount of the subsidies for such approved applications;

(3) of the total number of online courses which have currently been included in the Reimbursable Course List (the Course List) of CEF; the scopes of such courses, as well as the tuition fees and numbers of enrolled students of such courses; whether the effectiveness of such courses has been reviewed; if so, of the details; if not, the reasons for that;

(4) given that according to the Government's projection made in 2019, by 2027, (i) professional and business services, (ii) information and communications, (iii) financial services, (iv) social and personal services, (v) real estate and (vi) construction would be the faster growing economic sectors in terms of manpower requirements, of the respective numbers of courses on the existing Course List which are related to these six sectors; the numbers of persons subsidised by CEF, in each of the past five years and since January this year, to study such courses; whether it has plans to include more of such courses in the Course List;

(5) given that Singaporeans aged 25 or above are each disbursed by their Government at regular intervals credits, which do not expire and can be accumulated, for paying fees of approved skills-related courses, whether the Government will consider adopting similar practices to motivate members of the public to pursue continuing education for keeping abreast with the restructuring of industries; if so, of the details; if not, the reasons for that; and

(6) given that in respect of employer-sponsored training courses, the Government of Singapore has provided employers with (i) subsidies of 50 per cent to 95 per cent of the course fees and (ii) absentee payroll funding, whether the Government will consider adopting similar practices, so as to encourage employers of the private sector to subsidise their employees in continuing education; if so, of the details; if not, the reasons for that?



     My consolidated reply to various parts of the question raised by the Hon Peter Douglas Koon is as follows:

     The Government established the Continuing Education Fund (CEF) to provide subsidies to adults with learning aspirations to pursue continuing education and training, with a view to complementing the development trend of globalisation and meeting the need for Hong Kong's transition to a knowledge-based economy. Hong Kong residents, irrespective of education level, employment and financial status, are eligible to claim for CEF subsidy upon successful completion of CEF courses. The CEF has all along been learner-oriented, and directly subsidises learners, enabling them to choose courses that suit their needs having regard to their interests and competencies.

     The CEF authorities launched a series of enhancement measures in April 2019, including the doubling of subsidy ceiling from HK$10,000 to HK$20,000 per person. To continue promote continuing education and encourage self-enhancement, the CEF authorities further increased the subsidy ceiling to HK$25,000 per person in August 2022. Currently, the reimbursable courses under the CEF are classified by the nine original course domains and all (14) areas of study and training registered under the Qualifications Register, covering areas of architecture and town planning, business and management, computer science and information technology, etc. The CEF currently provides over 7 000 registered courses offered by over 270 course providers. Course providers may design and offer new courses and apply for registration under the CEF to meet market demand. If course providers have questions or encounter difficulties during the application process, the Labour and Welfare Bureau and the Hong Kong Council for Accreditation of Academic and Vocational Qualifications are ready to assist. In light of the advancement in technology and changes in learning mode, the Government recognised eligible online courses under the CEF and started accepting applications from course providers in October 2021. The CEF has yet to receive such applications but received enquiries from individual course providers preparing for applications for registration of their online courses.

     With the implementation of the above various enhancement measures, the number of CEF subsidy recipients for which reimbursement is sought had risen in recent years, increasing by 150 per cent in two years from about 23 000 in 2019-20 to about 58 000 in 2021-22, reflecting citizens' persistently increasing interest in participation in continuing education through the CEF. The number of CEF subsidy recipients and the amount of subsidy disbursed with breakdown by age group and course domain in the past five years (from 2017-18 to 2021-22) is set out at Annex.

     The question also mentioned various approaches adopted by Singapore in motivating its citizens to pursue continuing education. According to the information on the website of the "SkillsFuture" programme, every Singaporean aged 25 or above received an opening credit of S$500 (around HK$3,000) at the inception of the programme in 2015. The Singapore Government would grant top-ups from time to time and a top-up of S$500 was injected in 2020 after the inception of the programme. The aforesaid mode is similar to the current mode of the CEF in providing financial incentive to encourage continuing education. The Singapore Government also provides employers with subsidies equivalent to 50 per cent to 95 per cent of the course fees in respect of their sponsored training courses and the absentees' payroll. We noted that the Singapore Government imposed the "Skills Development Levy" on the employers for these.

     Following the funding injection by the Government in 2018, the CEF maintained an approved commitment balance of HK$10.6 billion as at end-August 2022. The Government will continue to utilise the CEF to encourage Hong Kong residents to pursue continuing education, and currently has no plan to require employers to make contributions for the provision of subsidies.
Ends/Wednesday, November 30, 2022
Issued at HKT 11:05
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