Concrete road map must be created to realise Hong Kong’s hopes of being a hi-tech city

The government needs a plan that identifies obstacles and weaknesses, builds on the city’s existing strengths and presents realistic goals

PUBLISHED : Friday, 29 April, 2016, 11:04pm
UPDATED : Friday, 29 April, 2016, 11:04pm

Officials love to pontificate on science and technology. Innovation and Technology Bureau chief Nicholas Yang Wei-hsiung is the latest to comment on the urgent need for Hong Kong to go hi-tech and stay competitive. But the public will not be convinced by their pie-in-the-sky visions unless they can lay out a concrete road map that identifies major obstacles and weaknesses, build on our existing strengths and present realistic goals.

Yang wants Hong Kong to become a knowledge-based economy in 10 years; a tall order indeed. By that he means the creation of high-value-added reindustrialisation in such fields as regenerative medicine and the internet of things. The goal is to boost productivity and growth, and to create quality jobs. He wants to change our mindset for quick profits and the economy to diversify from finance-based services. Worthy goals, one and all. But how do we get there? Clearly, we need a culture that encourages young people to pursue studies in science and engineering, an education system that delivers cutting-edge training for local talent, and an economy that creates such jobs and rewards risk-takers. At the moment, we have neither the culture nor the economy for hi-tech innovation. Our core strength is our top universities that are research powerhouses.

A Post report finds that publicly funded secondary schools have seen drastically fewer students opting for science subjects. Physics, chemistry and two maths subjects are among the worst-hit, with the percentage of pupils taking them down by as much as a half since 2012. This is self-defeating.

Fewer Hong Kong school pupils opt for science subjects, endangering government bid to boost technology sector

Meanwhile, Dr Jonathan Choi, the new recipient of the prestigious HK$5 million Croucher Innovation Award, has voiced what many have known for a long time: Hong Kong is failing to support home-grown scientists and their research. Today, many graduates in science and engineering are from the mainland. But most return home. That is a wasted source of talent. More incentives need to be offered for those with exceptional talents to stay.

The government has its work cut out. Encourage foreign hi-tech companies to set up shop here and local firms to spend more on research and development; nurture students with skills to work with them; ensure our universities have the proper research facilities and working environment for scientists; and create commercial opportunities at the end of research. Do that, and we may have a fighting chance in the brave new world of 21st century high technology.