Generation 40s – 四十世代

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Why Hong Kong and Singapore must help their airlines soar

South China Morning Post
CommentInsight & Opinion
2017-03-22

Derwin Pereira says no laissez-faire principles can be prized more than the symbolic importance of Cathay Pacific and Singapore Airlines to each territory

When unbearable abdominal pain attacks you while you are flying 37,000 feet above the Pacific, hours away from your destination, you literally are at the mercy of the cabin crew. How they react depends on the culture of the airline, the crew’s practical training, and, finally, on a visceral capacity for human responsiveness.

I fell ill, with what was diagnosed later as a kidney stone attack, two hours into a recent Singapore Airlines flight from San Francisco to Singapore via Hong Kong. Members of the inflight staff gave me medication based on the advice of specialists on the ground. When the flight landed in Hong Kong, an ambulance was ready for me. So was a member of the airline staff who chaperoned me to the nearest hospital. I was on the next flight home after the check-up.

During my detour through Hong Kong, thinking about Singapore Airlines naturally made me take a comparative look at Cathay Pacific.

Both are premium Asian airlines. Both symbolise the audacious international reach of the minuscule territories where they originated. Both are under pressure from upstarts in other parts of Asia and even in their own regional backyards. Both have loyal customers who see them as national possessions. And both need their governments to accord them the courtesy given to national institutions.

Consider Singapore Airlines. I fly it because I am Singaporean. The airline is celebrating its 70th anniversary this year. For me, though, its provenance dates from 1972, when it became the national carrier of Singapore seven years into the country’s independence.

The airline represents for me the capacity of a man-made institution to outwit hostile natural circumstances through Darwinian determinism. The ethic of survival and success, which motivated Singapore from the first moment of its independence, is written into the airline’s rationale. Singapore Airlines is to the skies what Singapore is to the land.

The airline is a national icon. In Singapore’s internationalised economic space, it is comparable in symbolic significance with the civil service and the Singapore Armed Forces. The civil service has overseen a city state’s transformation from third world to first world. The military ensures that the city remains a state.

Commercially, Singapore Airlines is Singapore’s face to the world, offering the first glimpse of what this country offers to foreigners. Those unimpressed with its standards are unlikely to be enchanted by the nation which lies beyond Changi Airport.

For Singaporeans, to whom the world does not owe a living, Singapore Airlines is a concrete example of how an unexpected nation can make a living, and a reasonably good one at that.

Cathay Pacific, I’d imagine, occupies a similar place in the Hong Kong public imagination. It began life as an airline that capitalised on its Asian locale even in colonial Hong Kong. Two decades into the city’s return to China, Cathay is not only a Chinese airline but also a Hong Kong Chinese airline, its mystique distinguished clearly from the larger cultural context in which mainland Chinese airlines operate.

Symbolically, Cathay is to Hong Kong’s autonomy in the air what the territory’s political and economic institutions are to its special status on the ground. To put it bluntly, Air China is, and is seen as, a Chinese airline, and in the larger framework of Chinese aviation, Cathay was, is and will be a Hong Kong airline.

This is why governments, like their peoples, need to view iconic airlines in special ways.

There is one impediment. Both Singapore and Hong Kong made their mark on the international economy by practising largely laissez-faire policies. Economic nationalism was a suicidal idea because it meant that small entities could be excluded legitimately from larger markets for political or ethnic reasons. Whatever the good or the service involved – whether apparel or airlines – economic access to the global hinterland was essential for Hong Kong and Singapore.

After all, Singapore Airlines could hardly fly from Changi to Seletar – where there’s an airport serving private jets – any more than Cathay could fly from Kowloon to Hong Kong Island. Economic territorialism outside their borders spells physical doom.

Propelled on by the salutary limitations of domestic geography, Singapore and its Singapore Airlines, and Hong Kong and its Cathay remained a bridge between the contending worlds of capitalism and communism even during the cold war.

That was then. Today, West Asian airlines such as Emirates and Qatar Airways are leveraging on their geographical position between Asia and Europe. Meanwhile, the Pacific routes from Singapore and Hong Kong are up for grabs to regional challengers, not least from mainland China itself. Sovereign wealth funds help fuel the rise of some West Asian airlines. Flagship carriers in China or Malaysia have national coffers to fall back on.

To mix metaphors, there is no reason for Hong Kong or Singapore to abjure the sink-or-swim philosophy that made their airlines great. But they must ensure that those airlines do not now sink because other countries are intent on keeping their airlines shipshape.

Singapore Airlines and Cathay must take to the skies, carrying the aspiration of millions inscribed into their names.

Derwin Pereira heads Pereira International, a Singapore-based political consultancy. He is also a member of Harvard University’s Belfer Centre for Science and International Affairs


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香港私立自資院校策略性角色(上)

信報財經新聞
教育講論
2017-03-04

何順文

在香港,非牟利私立自資(或稱民辦或獨立)高等院校的重要性,一直未受到應有的重視,政策落後於整個形勢與環球趨勢,也是對香港作為國際先進經濟體的一個諷刺和缺陷。政府曾提及的公私型雙軌發展模式有待急起直追。

本文將以上下篇探討一下,香港私立自資高等院校的策略性角色。

2000年前政府多年來一直奉行英式精英主義,嚴緊控制學位教育,只由政府資助(或稱公營)院校供應及壟斷,資助學士學額嚴重短缺。多年來適齡入學率維持少於兩成,也嚴重造成社會不公,違反了大學教育普及化的環球趨勢。

最近一項國際調查顯示只有兩成香港勞動人口有學士學位,大幅落後於其他先進經濟體的四成多。這個偏低教育程度未能應付一個知識型社會的需要。社會不斷演變前進,學歷愈低就業或流動的機會就愈低,人們不斷要自我增值。

發展起步遲須追趕

自2000年起,香港高等教育發生了基本的變化。2000年9月教統會在其(二十一世紀的教育藍圖)報告中,建議政府鼓勵私立專上院校經評審後頒發學位。報告指出發展私立大學能驅動社會各界為高教出資獻力,提供多元互補的教育機會,造福學生。另外,前特首董建華於2000年《施政報告》承諾「十年內讓高等教育的普及率達到60%」,但實際上大幅增加的學額不足兩成為學士水平。

奮鬥多年的私立樹仁學院,早年曾拒絕政府直接資助,堅持四年制及辦學自主,於2006年經評審獲準正名為「樹仁大學」,也是唯一一所校監不是特首的大學。事實上,早年私立的崇基、新亞、聯合、浸會及嶺南皆因接受政府直接資助而被迫放棄追求成為私立大學的理想。這些院校有得有失已成為歷史,但也令香港私立大學發展長期停滯不前。

為擴大認可學士學額而不動用大幅額外公帑,港府於2009年起根據〈專上學院條例〉(即第320章),透過批地和免息貸款來鼓勵更多民間辦學團體開辦自資學士課程,扶助部分具潛質的「學院」日後申請正名為私立「大學」。非牟利私立自資院校的復興,打破了多年來香港學位教育由公營院校主導的單一局面。

質素保證與獨特貢獻

自2009年起陸續有珠海、恒管、東華、明愛、明德、港專、能仁及宏恩等8所私立院校按上述條例註冊成立(另外還有兩所公立自資院校,即公大及VTC高等教育科技學院)。他們以自資形式每年提供合共13000個政府認可學士學額,令本地總入學率升至近三成多,減輕了本土學生的升學壓力,和提升社會公平與流動性。

在香港,能夠入讀學士課程的學生,必須達到文憑試33222的最低成績要求(約佔35%考生)。這些私立院校的校園設施、師資、師生比例、課程、教學、財政穩建性、畢業生出路與質素保證機制均受香港學術及職業資歷評審局(HKCAAVQ)的嚴格評審及監察,因此質素及成果有一定保證。部分私立院校更已具備大學體系、規模和國際教研與管治水平,也有明確計劃和時間表,以申請正名為一所大學。

私立自資院校有更多的自主、靈活性和創新,更着重優質小班教學與學生個人發展,補充了公校在教育模式上的不足,令香港高教的長遠發展更為多元化、平衡與可持續。但它們也有其挑戰與困難,待下期討論。

(待續)

撰文:何順文
恒生管埋學院校長


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「狀元」學校新征途

信報財經新聞
銘想英國
2017-02-18

陳思銘

Cardiff Sixth Form College有「全英最有腦學校」之稱,其學術成績之優異可想而知。這間英國排名第一的A Level學校,校園任何風吹草動自然都會受到矚目,早在幾個月前,有關Cardiff Sixth Form College的各種謠言猜測已經甚囂塵上,預示有大件事即將發生,未幾馬上傳來大地震:學校創辦人Yasmin Sarwar離開自己一手一腳建立並創出驕人成績的學校。

轟動「分手」消息

Yasmin Sarwar與Cardiff Sixth Form College「分手」的消息,成為近日英國教育界最沸騰的話題。兩者各奔向怎樣的前程,亦是全國目光所向。據悉Yasmin Sarwar已投身Oxford International College,將會舉辦嶄新的世界課程,推動新的教育理念。

至於Cardiff Sixth Form College,校長一職由Gareth Collier出任,學校並且將由Duke’s Education所收購。有問Duke’s Education何方神聖也?這個教育機構成立於1999年,本身有涉足出版界,不少人曾聞Duke’s Education之名,都是多得他們出版過的一本著名攻考牛津劍橋的攻略書籍So you want to go Oxbridge? Tell me about a banana…。事實上對於事業路迷惘的學生來說,Duke’s Education的存在有如黑暗中的明燈,在協助學生升學及就業發展上,有着出色的表現及豐富的經驗。近年來為各大小學校舉辦過升學及職業訓練講座、工作坊無數,也把好些學校外判出去的職業發展部門辦得有聲有色。集團近年銳意辦學,Cardiff Sixth Form College之前,被收歸旗下的學校已有3間,分別是位於倫敦北部的Fine Arts College;位於倫敦西部,專攻醫療科學科目的Acorn College;以及在Kent的Rochester Independent College。可以想像,能夠接手這間位於威爾斯首都的英國頂級名校,這企業集團當然也絕非泛泛之輩。

Cardiff Sixth Form College現有如此具規模及經驗的集團作後盾,加上企業化管理、新的資金和更充裕資源的情況下,會有一番什麼景象,大家都急不及待想知道。許多家長學生尤其關注的是,當學校走出Yasmin Sarwar所創造的神話,走向集團企業化,其學術上的佳績是否能夠保持?為了釐清各方疑惑,新校長Gareth Collier真的不遺餘力,更會親臨香港,講解學校變天後的最新情況,解答家長和學生的問題。

然而,大地震才剛震完,許多都仍是未知之數。想真正了解Cardiff Sixth Form College的何去何從,大家還是得耐心拭目以待它今後的表現。


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What Hong Kong can learn from Europe’s still-evolving union

South China Morning Post
CommentInsight & Opinion
2017-03-22

Yan Shaohua says the consensus-building project that is the European Union offers good pointers for our divided city

 

This year is an eventful year for Hong Kong. The city is poised to see the election of a new chief executive on March 26, and 2017 also marks the 20th anniversary of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region.

On another continent, and just one day before the chief executive election here, the European Union will celebrate the 60th anniversary of the Treaty of Rome that laid the foundation of the union.

The EU and Hong Kong may seem very different from one another, but if we look deeper, the two could be familiar strangers. Philosophically, the EU’s concept of “unity without uniformity” resonates perfectly with the spirit of “one country, two systems” here. And, to a large extent, both the EU and Hong Kong are “strange animals” in terms of their unique place in the global system.

There are other similarities. The EU suffers from a perceived “democratic deficit”, Hong Kong is struggling to establish a “true demo­cracy”. The EU faces a backlash against the consolidation of a political union, Hong Kong is stuck in its political reform. The EU frets over the ascent of populism and nationalism, Hong Kong fears the rise of localism. Facing these challenges, both sides are at a crossroads, compelled to review their past and reflect on future paths.

Giving these commonalities, it is surprising that so little attention is paid to the EU in Hong Kong’s discussions on the future of “one country, two systems”. As a researcher in European studies in Hong Kong, I believe that a study of the EU would offer valuable lessons for our problems. These lessons can be summarised in what I call the “3Cs”: constitution, communication and consensus.

Constitution

The first lesson is to come back to the constitution. Despite its inherent flaws and the multiple crises along the way, the EU has evolved from a group of six members into a union of 28 states under a supranational governance structure. This has largely occurred on the basis of what we call the acquis communautaire, which includes the accumulated legislation, legal order and court decisions that constitute the body of European Union laws.

In particular, the Treaty of Rome and its subsequent revisions have served as the constitutional framework to navigate the EU’s evolution. Although the EU’s progression is slow and not without setbacks, there has been a strong sense of working through the constitutional treaties which enables the EU to overcome the seemingly unworkable system.

The EU’s adherence to its constitutional framework and the supremacy it gives to European law should constitute “foreign stones that may serve to polish domestic jade”. Like the EU experience, “one country, two systems” is an evolving formula that calls for continuous improvements in practice. In recent years, the city has seen a strong push for reform, yet many of the discussions undertaken are out of the context and unrealistic.

In fact, a number of the issues raised have already been addressed in the Basic Law, the city’s mini-constitution. It is thus imperative that any discussion on the future of “one country, two systems” – which still provides ample room and flexibility to accommodate the pleas of different stakeholders – begins with the Basic Law.

Li Fei, chairman of the Hong Kong Basic Law Committee under the National People’s Congress Standing Committee, speaks at a luncheon with Hong Kong lawmakers and officials in November 2013. Hong Kong must create effective mechanisms for political communication and consul­tation between the executive and legislative organs, between the pro-establishment and pan-democratic camps, and between the SAR and Beijing. Photo: Sam Tsang

Communication

The second lesson is to establish effective channels of communication. The EU is a system of multilevel governance that involves multiple actors and multiple methods of decision-making. The functioning of such a complicated system would not have been possible without the various formal and informal mechanisms of communication between EU institutions and member states.

Such open and institutionalised ways of communication are not sufficiently seen within Hong Kong or between Hong Kong and Beijing. Consequently, the city is constantly trapped in confrontations over policies, politics and, particularly, its relations with Beijing.

To avoid unnecessary confrontation and facilitate constructive interactions, a priority for Hong Kong is to create effective mechanisms (formal or informal) for political communication and consul­tation between the executive and legislative organs, between the pro-establishment and pan-democratic camps, and between the SAR and Beijing. This could be achieved within Hong Kong’s constitutional framework.

Hong Kong’s pro-democracy lawmakers hold up banners while being escorted out after they interrupted the chief executive election forum in Hong Kong last Sunday. With increasing social movements and political demonstrations, the SAR is transforming from an economic city into a political city, where politics and society are highly polarised. Photo: AFP

Consensus

Based on the constitution and through communication, a third lesson for Hong Kong is to rebuild a consensus. The EU is essentially a project of consensus-building, which has in turn contributed to European integration. For decades, the post-war European consensus on achieving peace and prosperity through functional economic integration has been an enabling factor for the EU’s development.

That consensus seems to be losing momentum right now. The hopes are that a new consensus could be built on the occasion of the EU’s 60th anniversary.

Hong Kong is facing a similar dilemma. With increasing social movements and political demonstrations, the SAR is transforming from an economic city into a political city, where politics and society are highly polarised. Gradually, people seem to be getting used to divisions and confrontations, forgetting the wisdom of making compromises and consensus. It is time for Hong Kong to rebuild a much-needed consensus, not only on its internal governance, but also on its role as a go-between for China and the world.

Finally, we should be aware that the EU and Hong Kong’s “one country, two systems” are both unprecedented political experiments in supranational and national governance. Despite the challenges and the crises that have emerged, they are still something worth fighting for, because they represent future possibilities, and hope.

Dr Yan Shaohua is an Asia fellow at the EU-Asia Institute, ESSCA School of Management, and a member of the One Country Two Systems Youth Forum


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How innovative China is beating Facebook, Google and Amazon at their own game

CommentInsight & Opinion
2017-03-21
Niall Ferguson says China, unlike Europe, has shown great economic and political acumen in choosing to challenge the dominance of US internet giants

Only in China could there already be a museum of internet finance. Though most Britons have barely adopted the term “fintech”, online banking is old hat in Beijing.

I toured the museum with its founder, Wang Wei, who delighted in showing me exhibits such as a bitcoin cash machine. The cryptocurrency is eight years old: in today’s China, that’s ancient enough to belong in a glass display case.

Some time soon, Europe needs a similarly designed museum of political idiocy. In its glass cases, I would like to exhibit stuffed specimens of politicians who have so hopelessly failed to understand the information technology revolution that began in California in the 1970s and has now almost completely taken over the world.

Prime candidates for the taxidermist’s knife are the members of the UK’s Commons Home Affairs Committee. They have laid into Google, Facebook and Twitter for not doing enough to censor the web on their behalf. Yvette Cooper, their chairwoman, complained that Facebook had failed to take down a page with the title “Ban Islam”. As she put it: “We need you to do more and to have more social responsibility to protect people.”

Another possible exhibit in the museum of political idiocy is Germany’s justice minister, Heiko Maas, who unveiled a draft law last week that would impose fines of up to 50 million euros (HK$417.6 million) on social networks that failed to delete “hate speech” or “fake news”. He said: “Too little illegal content is being deleted and it’s not being deleted sufficiently quickly.”

If these people want censorship, let them get on with it, but arguing that Google and Facebook should do the censoring is nuts. As if these companies were not already mighty enough, European politicians want to give them the power to limit free expression.

Best of all is the revelation that government advertising has ended up on jihadist and white supremacist websites. The news that London’s Department for International Development and the Metropolitan police have been spending taxpayers’ money in this undiscriminating way just strikes me as more evidence of European naivety.

There are three essential points to understand about the IT revolution. First, it was almost entirely a US-based achievement, albeit with contributions from computer scientists who came to Silicon Valley from all over the world and Asian manufacturers who drove down the costs of hardware.

Most of the big breakthroughs in software that made mass personal computing possible were made in America – think Microsoft and Apple. The internet, too, was made in America. Online retail was made by Amazon, founded in 1994 in Seattle. Online search based on the PageRank algorithm: made by Google, founded in 1996, its first office a garage in Menlo Park, California. Online social networking for one and all: made by Facebook, founded in 2004 at Harvard. YouTube (2005), Twitter (2006), the iPhone (2007), Uber (2009), Snapchat (2011) – you get the idea.

A post on Mark Zuckerberg’s Facebook page shows him running through Tiananmen Square in Beijing, in March last year. Photo: Facebook

Point two: the most important of these companies are now mind-blowingly dominant. In Facebook’s little red book for employees, it is written: “The quick shall inherit the Earth.” Mark Zuckerberg has certainly inherited quite a chunk of this planet. His social network now has 1.23 billion active daily users.

Google and Facebook are predicted to increase their combined share of all digital advertising this year to 60 per cent. Google has 78 per cent of US search advertising. Facebook has 39 per cent of online display advertising.

Third point: this dominance translates into crazy money. Facebook will make US$16 billion from display advertising this year. The business is valued today at about US$400 billion, including a US$30 billion cash pile. That equips Zuckerberg to buy up pretty much whatever comes along that he likes the look of – as he did with Instagram, for example.

It is an amazing state of affairs. Consider the functions these companies perform. Google is essentially a vast global library; it’s where we go to look things up. Amazon is a vast global bazaar, where more and more of us go to shop. And Facebook is a vast global club. The various networking functions these companies perform are not new; it’s just that technology has made the networks both enormous and very fast. The more interesting difference, however, is that in the past libraries and social clubs did not make money from advertising. They were funded out of donations or subscriptions or taxes.

In other words, the truly revolutionary fact is that our global library and our global club are both making money from advertising, and that the more we tell them about ourselves, the more effective the advertising becomes, sending us off to Jeff Bezos’ bazaar with increasing frequency.

Not for nothing is “Fang” the investors’ acronym for Facebook, Amazon, Netflix and Google. These guys really have got their teeth into us.

Confronted with this American network revolution, the rest of the world had two options: capitulate or compete. The Europeans chose the former. You will look in vain for a European search engine, giant online retailer or social network. The US Fang has been well and truly sunk into the EU.

The Chinese, by contrast, opted to compete. By fair means and foul, they made life difficult for the Americans. And they encouraged their own entrepreneurs to build businesses that rival the giants of Silicon Valley. The acronym of the moment in Beijing is “Bat”: Baidu (the biggest search engine), Alibaba (Jack Ma’s answer to Amazon) and Tencent (the nearest thing to Facebook).

These companies are much more than clones of their US counterparts; each has been innovative in its own right. A good example is Tencent’s ubiquitous messaging app

WeChat, which, by using QR codes to allow users to exchange contact details, is fast destroying the business card.

Needless to say, Silicon Valley gnashes its fangs at being shut out of the vast Chinese market. Zuckerberg has not yet given up hope, doing interviews in Putonghua and even jogging through the smog of Tiananmen Square. The recent experience of Uber cannot encourage him. Last year, it ran up the white flag in China, accepting that it could not beat the homegrown ride-sharing business Didi Chuxing. Cue more gnashing.

I have to say I admire how China took on Silicon Valley and won. It was not only smart economically but smart politically, too. Beijing now has the big data it needs to keep very close tabs on Chinese netizens. And good luck to the US National Security Agency as it tries to get through the Great Firewall of China.

Museums are where history’s victors display their trophies. What I learnt last week is that China may be winning the latest battle in the IT wars: to take not just banking but money itself online.

Niall Ferguson is a senior fellow of the Hoover Institution, Stanford