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

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 |














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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

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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Hong Kong Economic Journal
B03 | 專家視角 | 經濟3.0 | By 曾國平 |





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)。








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)。


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。




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

South China Morning Post
Comment›Insight & Opinion

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: