SCMP Monday, October 1, 2001

Lack of higher education threatens 'world city' aspirations


The relatively low education standards of Hong Kong people compared with those in other developed economies will threaten plans for the SAR to become a knowledge-based economy, an expert has warned.
Professor Liu Pak-wai, pro-vice-chancellor and professor of economics at the Chinese University, said the improvement of human resources through education was essential if Hong Kong was to stay ahead of neigbouring economies.
"If it succeeds, Hong Kong will become a world city," he said. "Otherwise it will be just another Chinese city."
Citing figures from Unesco, the United Nations education agency, Professor Liu said only 28 per cent of people aged 18 to 22 in Hong Kong enrolled in higher education in 1997 - the lowest among developed cities in the region.
The United States and Australia attained the highest rate - 81 and 80 per cent respectively. The figure for South Korea was 68 per cent, 52 per cent for Britain, 43 per cent for Japan, and 39 per cent for Singapore.
But per capita gross national product for Hong Kong - at US$20,763, (HK$161,950) compared with US$13,286 for South Korea - was among the highest in the world, which implied a high living standard.
"With a low tertiary education participation rate and a high living standard, Hong Kong does not look like a knowledge-based economy," Professor Liu said. "Hong Kong will need to raise the tertiary education participation rate to support the high living standard. Otherwise, it will be overtaken by other countries."
This financial year, $55.33 billion will be spent on education, accounting for 19 per cent - the biggest share - of public spening.
Professor Liu said another way to acquire human resources was to import professional workers, and the Government had already launched schemes to bring such people to the SAR.
He said Hong Kong was a place blending Chinese and Western culture and, because it was near the mainland, imported professionals would easily be able to visit family members there.
He believed Hong Kong should aim in the long run to offer high value-added services, including a commercial centre for major international companies to establish regional headquarters, and innovative technologies in areas where it had an edge, such as financial services. It should also develop tourism.