Generation 40s – 四十世代

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Time to move past stigma of vocational education

South China Morning Post
Comment›Insight & Opinion
2014-03-05

David Lim

David Lim welcomes the recent recognition of the role vocational education can play to provide meaningful work for Hong Kong’s young people, while catering to the needs of the economy

Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying pointed out, in his policy address, the importance of vocational education and training for Hong Kong. He made the obvious but often forgotten point that academic education is not for everyone and more guidance should be given to the young in their choice of careers. Accordingly, it will take a number of initiatives to promote it, with the Vocational Training Council playing a significant role.

This is welcome, and some would say about time too, because vocational education and training has too often played second fiddle to academic education, and the role of the council in training young Hongkongers has never been properly recognised. It is also consistent with the central theme of Leung’s address to help the poor because many students of vocational education and training come from poorer families.

An efficient labour force must consist of a number of related parts; one will not function well without the other. Vocational education and training is integral to this. The growth of many economies has been hampered by the absence of such skills. In Australia and Canada, many university graduates now enrol in vocational institutions to improve their employability.

The relative importance of the parts must be consistent with the economy’s requirements. In the poorest economies, the labour force structure resembles a pyramid, with a large number of workers with basic literacy and technical skills, and low incomes, at the base. In richer economies, where repetitive, routine, low-skilled work is done by machines, the structure is more like a diamond. The demand for workers with low skills is small; it is large for workers with higher skills on good pay. In Hong Kong, the structure across all age groups resembles an hour glass, especially so among the 15-24 age group.

Vocational education and training is also not appreciated because of its stigma. People in Hong Kong prefer academic education, seeing vocational education and training as a last resort that is good enough only for “academic failures”, which is reinforced by its traditional omission from mainstream education.

There is a historical reason for this. Workers with vocational education and training skills were produced by the apprenticeship system, where apprentices, usually working-class children, learned skills in artisan and industrial trades under master craftsmen. But this system could not produce the large numbers of workers needed by the Industrial Revolution and, in Britain, vocational education and training schools were set up as an alternative to provide working-class children with basic technical skills. These schools existed side by side with highly exclusive schools for children of the upper class, and general schools for children of the middle class to equip them for civil service jobs.

As vocational education and training originated as the main avenue for working-class youth, it acquired a stigma among those who aspired to move out of that class. It fell further from favour with the introduction of egalitarian education, as its narrow emphasis limited opportunities for future access to higher education and occupational positions, and reproduced the very social and occupational stratifications that spawned it. The latest data from Unesco shows a consistent fall worldwide in the share of vocational education and training in total secondary education enrolment , from 24 per cent in1950 to 11 per cent in 2010.

In Chinese societies, the stigma is worsened by the legacy from Imperial China’s civil service examination system to promote the Confucian tenet of meritocracy. This was open to all adult males. However, it only tested knowledge of the Confucian classics and scholastic, military and legal matters, leading to the acceptance and prevalence of basic values in society that had no place for vocational education and training skills.

This was reflected in the exclusion, under some dynasties, of the merchant and artisan classes from taking the examination. As the system lasted for 1,300 years, these values became deeply ingrained in Chinese society.

That the Vocational Training Council has been asked to play an important role in remaking and rebranding is well deserved. In the 1990s, it was a moribund institution but has turned this round with clever strategic planning, external accreditation and aggressive debunking of many myths.

The myth that students who do poorly in academic education are incapable of benefiting from further or other learning is dismissed by showing that people learn best when doing things that interest them, and vocational education and training graduates enter universities with significant advanced standing and do well.

The myth that vocational education and training is an educational dead end is tackled by providing a through train, the latest being the establishment of the Technological and Higher Education Institute to offer vocationally oriented degree programmes in niche areas.

Today, the council is a major player in Hong Kong’s post-secondary-six education sector. In 2013-14, it admitted 20,000 students for its sub-degree and 500 for its degree programmes, and has 250,000 full-time and part-time students. Such numbers suggest that vocational education is a mainstream and not peripheral pursuit.

And it is providing quality education because many students win open competitions against all comers. Lest it be thought that its products are only technicians with no ability to communicate with the greater world in which they live and work, its programmes to develop well-rounded graduates are second to none.

Professor David Lim is president of the Technological and Higher Education Institute of Hong Kong

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底特律衰敗有因 內地宜吸取教訓

Hong Kong Economic Journal
A02 | 要聞社評 | 社評 |
2013-07-20

盛極一時的「汽車之城」底特律申請聯邦破產保護,成為美國歷史上首個破產的大城市。這個曾是美國第五大的名城,由輝煌走向破落,其來有自,箇中的經驗教訓,也值得正謀大舉城鎮化的中國當局引以為鑑,以防「鬼城」湧現,不可收拾。

底特律正面臨一片慘淡景象:近二百億美元的債務、逾十萬個債權人,市政府已無法履行對市民和債權人的責任。市內治安惡劣,謀殺犯罪率處於四十年內最高水平,市民致電報警要等待近一小時始獲回應(全美國是平均十一分鐘),破案率僅百分之八點七。今年首季,全市約有四成路燈「失明」,只有三分之一的救護車可提供服務。

授權申請破產的密歇根州州長斯奈德明言,即使底特律可以為支付債務而提高稅收,市民也負擔不起;唯一的辦法是對底特律進行徹底重組,讓它卸掉那些根本還不起的債務包袱,得以打破公共服務每況愈下的惡性循環,脫胎換骨。

人們或許會問,這個全美三大汽車公司總部皆坐落於斯的城市,何以淪落為「美國最悲慘之城」——犯罪率與失業率居高不下,人均收入接近美國的貧困線。

「成也汽車、敗也汽車」。底特律是美國汽車工業的發祥地,但隨着國內汽車業日走下坡,卻無產業轉型應對,人口大幅減少,人口質素明顯下降,這種由半個世紀之前開始形成的趨勢,無從逆轉;加上金融危機的衝擊,終使這個曾是「音樂之都」的密歇根州最大城市,只能奏出哀歌。

上世紀五十年代是底特律的盛世,當時人口近二百萬,如今只有七十萬;尤其是在本世紀的頭十年間,經濟頹唐之下,居民銳減二十五萬眾。人數減少以外,種族騷亂更使大量白人離去,目前該市居民中,黑人佔逾八成,而沒有大學學歷者高達百分之八十八,兼且退休人口超過活躍勞動人口一倍有多。人口量質齊降;加上不少企業也遷往郊區,市政府的稅收大減,但市政項目的支出依然龐大,終至債台高築。

底特律市政府的表現不濟,長期深受腐敗醜聞困擾,社會因種族矛盾衝突和治安惡化而不穩,都加速了城市財政的沉淪。

近年金融海嘯襲來,三大汽車公司大幅裁員,房地產崩潰,更使底特律的經濟陷於萬劫不復之境。

現時底特律的廢棄建築據報約有七萬八千幢。另有媒體報道,有投資者最近只花了二千三百美元,已可在這個樓價低殘的城市,買到一幢二〇〇八年金融危機前售價四十五萬美元的房子,房地產泡沫破滅所造成的震撼,可見一斑。

此外,有哈佛大學的經濟學家指出,底特律以大企業為龍頭,通過大舉興建辦公樓和基礎設施來拉動增長,忽略了城市多元化的本性,使其依賴單一的汽車工業,終成為美國汽車業衰落的直接受害者。

由此看來,產業單一化、居民遷移與人口紅利消失、政府貪腐和施政不堪、社會矛盾激化,以及金融動盪顛覆、房地產崩盤等等,俱為底特律被迫破產的因由;而這些弊端與危機,在中國推進城鎮化的過程中,恰為最值得吸取的教訓。

目前內地部分城市,產業過於單一固然存在隱患,尤甚者是依靠房地產發展城鎮化,據稱由此造成的「鬼城」,已有十二座之多。還有一些地方政府,為政績工程而肆意揮霍,盲目以固定投資刺激增長,孭上沉重債務,須向企業借貸應付日常運作開支。中央必須及時發現禍端,採取措施,令相關地方官吏懸崖勒馬,改弦易轍,否則後果堪虞。

在美國,城市財政崩壞,尚有破產機制,有法依循,民眾的最基本權益得到保障,中國當局有這方面的應變準備嗎?


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Just building more roads and rail lines won’t ease Hong Kong’s congestion

South China Morning Post
Comment›Insight & Opinion
2014-03-04

Evan Auyang

Evan Auyang says to ease congestion, the government can learn from successes elsewhere to encourage more people to switch to public transport and better manage traffic movements

Hong Kong prides itself on running a world-class public transport system, but recently there has been much discussion about worsening congestion and roadside pollution. This is counter-intuitive, given the slight population increase averaging only 0.65 per cent per year during the past decade, while at the same time our railway system has dramatically increased its capacity to carry almost 50 per cent more passengers.

The crux of the problem lies in the city’s over-reliance on “supply-side” solutions, where the focus has been on building more railways and roads, without fully exploring “demand-side” solutions that many global cities are now adopting.

This is best explained by the increase in the number of vehicles on Hong Kong’s roads, from 524,249 in 2003 to 680,914 in 2013, with private cars accounting for most of this rise, with an increase from 338,930 to 475,752 vehicles. To put this imbalance in perspective, the number of private cars increased by 40 per cent while the population grew by only 6.7 per cent.

As a result of worsening congestion, journey times on KMB’s services, for example, have increased on average by over 16 per cent in the past five years alone. Some routes are now forced to operate at average speeds far below acceptable international standards. In particular, the average speed on urban routes in Kowloon has dropped from 15.3km/h to 12.9km/h, while for some routes it has dropped to as low as 8km/h during peak hours – not much faster than walking.

Assuming that KMB’s average 16 per cent increase of journey time applies to all franchised bus operators and public light buses, we estimate that the worsening congestion over the past five years has cost Hong Kong over HK$4 billion per year.

Worsening congestion is not unique to Hong Kong. While the city is a recognised leader in applying supply-side solutions, other comparable cities have implemented extensive demand-side traffic management practices that we can learn from.

First, we could prioritise mass transport while containing vehicle growth. Several cities, such as London and Singapore, have introduced congestion charging/electronic road pricing to discourage the use of private cars in the busiest areas and during peak periods. This is coupled with measures to make public transport, especially the high-capacity railways and buses, the preferred option.

Although this is not dissimilar to Hong Kong’s approach, these cities have recently invested heavily to ensure buses are working more efficiently to complement the railways. Measures introduced include bus priority signals and dedicated bus lanes, to ensure average bus speeds improve year after year.

Such action was taken in recognition that if average bus speeds keep falling, it will ultimately result in more railway crowding and higher use of private cars. While Hong Kong’s commuters do heavily utilise buses and public light buses, the declining efficiency of these transport modes is leading to more dissatisfaction, a loss of passengers and worsening congestion.

Second, we could employ smart technologies. Seoul has invested heavily in smart IT systems to manage traffic flows, with more than 95 per cent of the Korean capital’s major roads being monitored by cameras. Illegally parked vehicles are ticketed via traffic control rooms rather than relying on police enforcement on the streets (illegal parking is said to take up 60 per cent of traffic police time in Hong Kong).

London has built a world-class IT- enabled traffic management system. The city’s entire transport system – from railways to buses to private cars – is monitored centrally. Traffic flows at major junctions are automatically detected on a real-time basis, and if they are determined to be abnormal or suboptimal, algorithms automatically adjust the phasing of traffic signals. In addition, a traffic police unit assigned to the control room is able to co-ordinate intervention as and when necessary. Smart technology, plus inter-departmental co-operation, results in more effective intervention and fewer resources spent on traffic enforcement.

Third, improving junctions and pedestrian space could help. Take New York. Extensive work has been done to make the city more pedestrian-friendly. Walking is an important and efficient form of transport for short distances, and many cities have begun extensive programmes to improve things.

Under London mayor Boris Johnson’s “Road Task Force”, the city has launched a multi-year programme to improve road junctions and prioritise pedestrians over vehicles. This work entails studying the existing bottlenecks, expanding the road network’s capacity, redesigning turns and improving safety.

Many cities are also promoting cycling as a major form of transport.

Fourth, given that congestion is at its worst during peak hours, many cities are implementing policies to keep traffic away during peak periods. For example, London provides incentives for non-time sensitive pick-ups and deliveries to take place outside peak hours. As city governments understand that not all transport movements are essential during peak hours, they have begun to introduce policies to shape behaviour that benefits everyone.

While recognising that these international best practices cannot simply be “imported” into Hong Kong without tailoring them to the city’s environment and needs, we need to acknowledge that the population densities of the cities mentioned in this article are similar to Hong Kong’s, and that a high population density alone is no barrier to introducing innovative demand-side traffic management practices.

There are clearly some “low hanging fruits” that Hong Kong can explore immediately, and the prize is large if we get this right; not only will we spend less time stuck in traffic, but the city will also be more efficient and less polluted.

Evan Auyang is deputy managing director of The Kowloon Motor Bus Company


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不要亂投資

Hong Kong Economic Journal
B03 | 專家視角 | 經濟3.0 | By 曾國平 |
2013-07-20

同學們:

放榜後的第一個周末,希望同學們已安頓下來,靜候命運的下一個安排。

昨天提到把教育作為投資來看。個人所擁有的人力資本在市場上有價,理由是僱主願意給你薪金借用你的資本。看起來,這真是個冷冰冰的交易過程!可是,我們生活的世界不是烏托邦,現實是大家要用勞力換取生活的所需(就像我現在寫稿賺取稿費一樣),這個功利的看法雖然不是事實的全部,但終究逃避不了。所謂「薪水」,為了的是買「薪」和買「水」,解決的是生活需要。

補救語文未算遲

積累人力資本,把自己當作八達通一樣去增值,聽來悶人又可悲。怪不得經濟學者從來都不受歡迎,經濟學成了令人沮喪的科學(dismal science)。

現實有時就是如此令人沮喪。

「投資有回報有風險」這道理一樣可以應用到教育上。有些人力資本投資的風險低,其回報未必能令人飛黃騰達,但由於應用層面廣,不愁沒有僱主考慮。

除了昨天提到的「吹水」能力、分析和組織能力、人際關係,語文能力也是這種有穩陣回報的人力資本投資。同學們自小就學語文,但通常都學不好,聽讀寫講總覺得殘缺不全,為什麼?也許是小時候不努力、基礎打得不好,也許是老師實在教得太差,也許是練習機會太少,理由可以很多,但要補救從來都不會遲。

香港是全世界中英文並學最理想的地方,開電視、泡戲院、逛書店,無處不是兩文三語並存。一位資深編輯跟我說,寫得一手通順的中英文,在香港不用擔心生活。中學時沒空學好語文,到了大專時間比較充裕,同學們不妨多看書。不知從何入手?有機會再為大家介紹幾本有趣的經濟學著作。

既有穩陣的投資,亦有高風險的投資。

不是勸同學不要讀一些專門的學科,只是希望同學明白投資的風險,知道專門的技術或能賺到高收入,但只要那行業有什麼「東瓜豆腐」,轉工轉行亦會相對比較麻煩;不要人云亦云的去選一些熱門科目,不問興趣的人讀我又讀,數年後的世界沒人說得準,行業愈新奇其前景愈難預料。

更重要的是,同學要「情投意合」,對學科有點興趣,盲目跟風讀書,就如盲目跟風買股票的小股民一樣,隨時「摸頂兼坐艇」。

唯一的例外是,一些供應受限制的專業,如律師和醫生等。經過幾番汰弱留強,同學要千辛萬苦才能成功入行,供應在「專業要求」的限制下叫價自然高。若果同學成功入讀這些學系,恭喜你!同學未來賺到的可觀收入,其絕大部分叫作壟斷租值(monopoly rent)。

過分專注產能降

不要把所有雞蛋放到一個籃子裏(put all eggs in one basket),人力資本的累積也講求分散風險。雖然大家只能選修一個學科,但這不代表同學們沒有分散投資的機會。

整天對着書本當書呆子,由朝到晚搞活動,又或整天忙於談戀愛和做兼職,這樣的「專業化」通常弊多於利。同學若果還未想清楚自己要什麼,不要茫然孤注一擲。利用有限的時間,把幾件事情做好,其風險一般比專做一件事低。再者,邊際的生產力終會下降(diminishing marginal product),專做一件事早晚事半功倍,還是分散投資比較划算。

同學可能會怪我這個80 後太功利,只會教同學們如何「武裝」自己賺大錢。我沒有這個意思,人力資本理論也沒有這個意思。收入能換來物質,物質可換來快樂,但這不代表追求高收入是人生唯一的追求,亦不代表只有物質才能帶來快樂。有人只想結婚生仔買車買樓,有人只想追尋其他更「高尚」的理想,但更多人需要在兩者之間作抉擇,在個人和社會價值之間取捨。

同學想追求什麼,只有自己最清楚。

離開了中學,面對較自由的學習生活,同學正好有機會去了解自己想追求什麼,並學會如何去積累人力資本去實現自己的理想人生。

給應屆文憑試考生的一封信.下
維珍尼亞理工大學經濟系助理教授
曾國平


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Work needed to ensure more women thrive in male-dominated industries

South China Morning Post
Comment›Insight & Opinion
2014-02-28

Su-Mei Thompson

Su-Mei Thompson says employers, officials and men all have a part to play to ensure more women flourish in male-dominated industries in HK

Many industries – even sectors that have been traditional male bastions – are now focusing on how to attract and retain women and help them rise to senior management.

There are various reasons for doing so. In the financial sector, studies have shown that female traders produce superior returns to men over the long term and, in the wake of the recent financial crisis, there is also an urgent need to bring a diversity of perspectives to decision-making. Women are also thought to be more risk-averse. In technology, the key driver is the growing shortage of talent.

A new Economist Intelligence Unit report examines opportunities and challenges for women in four key male-dominated sectors in Hong Kong: luxury brands, logistics and transport, technology, and trading and hedge funds. It found that more and more companies are focusing on the crucial issue of how to support women through the child-bearing years, introducing measures such as flexible working arrangements and extended maternity leave.

The issue of quotas for the hiring and promotion of women remains controversial, but a number of companies have moved towards targets that create a sense of urgency and help with measuring progress.

Companies are also realising that, to help women, they need men to support and even champion change. One unresolved issue is how women can network in male-dominated industries, where important relationships are often formed through male-centric activities such as after-work drinking sessions and rounds of golf. A few companies are trying to create opportunities for women to network in an environment where they feel more comfortable. Mentorship programmes are also seen as critical for women’s advancement.

Improving the participation rates for women in male-dominated industries will not be easy. As the research makes clear, there is no single issue that , if rectified, could raise rates across sectors. In some cases, such as luxury brands, women are attracted to the industry but drop out at a certain level of seniority, often as they plan to start a family.

With technology, the problem stems from false assumptions – that women are not interested and have less aptitude for maths and science. In other sectors, such as transport and trading, recruitment is the problem, with many women believing these sectors are unsuitable for, or hostile towards, them.

Improving women’s participation in these industries will require action on all fronts. For companies, the first step is a self-assessment: where are the women within the organisation and if they are not rising to management ranks, why not? This must be followed by a commitment to change and a detailed action plan that should include enlisting senior women as role models and mentors.

The government has a role to play as well. It could begin by acknowledging that current provision of parental leave is insufficient. A concerted effort to encourage girls to pursue maths and science subjects would also seem to be urgently required.

Su-Mei Thompson is CEO of The Women’s Foundation. This article is part of a monthly series developed in collaboration with the foundation. The report, “Work to do: Women in male-dominated industries in Hong Kong” is available at: http://www.economistinsights.com/leadership-talent-education/analysis/work-do