Many workers seize the chance to upgrade skills

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 03 March, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 03 March, 2007, 12:00am

Eligible applicants can be reimbursed 80 per cent of their course fees, or up to HK$10,000

IN A COMPETITIVE work environment, it is important that employees are well qualified and that they take the opportunity to upgrade their skills or add new skills as the situation demands.

This is especially relevant in the knowledge-based economy in Hong Kong. However, for many people in the workforce, taking educational courses can mean financial burdens.

It was for this reason that the Education and Manpower Bureau (EMB) set up the Continuing Education Fund (CEF) in 2002. The fund subsidises adults with learning aspirations to pursue continuing education and training courses. Eligible applicants are reimbursed 80 per cent of their course fees, subject to a maximum sum of HK$10,000, on successful completion of a course or module.

CEF has really struck a chord with the people - as at the end of January this year, 322,863 applications had been approved, and it had reimbursed about HK$1.31billion to CEF applicants.

The scheme targets those aged 18 to 60 and was intended for those without tertiary degrees but, following a review in 2003, CEF realised that those with a degree were equally in need of further education and training.

A 'Survey on the Demand of Continuing Education in Hong Kong 2005/06', published by the University of Hong Kong School of Professional and Continuing Education (HKU Space), of all continuing education learners in 2005, indicated that 21 per cent of respondents reported having benefited from various government-sponsored schemes, such as the CEF.

'To date, we have committed around HK$2.7billion out of the HK$5billion earmarked by the Legislative Council for the programme, as at end January,' said Bryan Ha Kwok-fung, assistant secretary (manpower infrastructure) of EMB. 'There is no need to inject additional money to the fund at this stage.'

About 5,400 programmes are included in EMB's list of approved reimbursable courses. They cover the major pillars of Hong Kong's economy and are divided into logistics, financial services, business services, tourism, languages, design, creative industries and interpersonal and intrapersonal skills for the workplace. Based on the number of applicants, language is the most popular sector, accounting for about 35 per cent of all applications, followed by financial services (25 per cent) and business services (16 per cent).

'According to the recent survey on continuing education conducted by HKU Space, the estimated numbers of continuing education learners have increased by 40 per cent from about 0.96million in 2003 to 1.36million in 2005,' said Mr Ha, adding that the report also concluded that the higher participation rate could be attributed largely to the government's efforts in supporting lifelong learning, through various sponsorships and programmes.

'In 2006 alone, a total of 80,000 applications were successful. We anticipate that the demand for the fund this year will be similar,' Mr Ha said.

Degree holders were welcome to apply in 2003 and, at the end of last year, about 30 per cent of applicants held university degrees.

'The CEF is welcomed by non-degree holders and degree holders,' said Mr Ha. 'Irrespective of educational attainment, there is a need for people to pursue continuing education. It is recognised that the transformation of Hong Kong from a manufacturing into a knowledge-based society has changed the working environment. In order to succeed, there is a strong need for employees to upgrade themselves - and the CEF is one of the avenues they can take to achieve this.

'The EMB is carrying out a review of the CEF and the findings will be presented to the Legislative Council later this year,' said Mr Ha. 'The review is very comprehensive, looking at various matters, including eligibility and competency requirements.'

He said that the review had also looked into adding new languages to the list of eligible courses. English, written Chinese, Putonghua, French, German and Japanese are covered now, but there have been calls to include Spanish and Korean.

'The reasons for this are that Spanish is a very widespread language in the world, including the European Union. Both the EU and Korea are among Hong's major trading partners, so there is a lot of demand here.'

It is too early to comment on other changes that may be implemented as a result of the review, but there is no doubt that the CEF is fulfilling a vital role in Hong Kong on the educational scene and in the economy as a whole.

'It was established to subsidise those who have aspirations to continue learning. We want to encourage all those who want to, to apply for CEF,' Mr Ha said.