Spending on education, training and health is an investment - not merely an expense
This year's policy address went to considerable lengths to empower human capital, by providing diversified learning, training and development opportunities that match the abilities, aspirations and education of our young.
University opportunities for associate degree holders will increase 25 per cent, from 4,000 to 5,000 places and there will be more support for apprentices.
The city is short of skilled labour, especially in some types of engineering work that may not be the first choice of our school leavers or their parents.
Working conditions and remuneration need to improve constantly to attract more young people into the trades. The hard work of blue-collar skilled workers should be appreciated and reflected in their wages.
However, 18 per cent of students gaining admission to publicly funded universities here is a low rate when compared with, say, the 26 per cent rate in Singapore.
We all compete to become a knowledge-based economy and human capital is the most important asset. We are not making good use of our human capital if people who are motivated cannot attend school or receive training because of poverty, illness, lack of a degree, family responsibilities or cultural exclusion.
In high-income countries such as Australia, people have the opportunity at various stages of their lives to train and enhance their abilities. These countries have been investing heavily in education and understand the quality of their populations. Australian government investment in research and development is about 2.38 per cent of gross domestic product, while Singapore and South Korea have reached 2.09 per cent and 3.78 per cent, respectively. Hong Kong is at only 0.75 per cent.
There are concerns that the present administration is overspending on welfare and that this will lead to unsustainable development.
However, Nobel economic laureate Gary Becker noted the importance of human capital. He argued that emphasis should be placed on education, training and health, as they were instrumental to a city's sustainable development.
If spending on education and training and on helping our children can bring long-term benefits, this will be an investment rather than an expense per se.
Of course, a society needs a sense of crisis. The Steering Committee on Population Policy has repeatedly called attention to the social problems of an ageing society. But the crisis, if responded to appropriately, can create opportunities.
The city's unemployment rate has been very low compared with other places, but the problem is that everyone works hard and lacks the time or resources for self-improvement, not to mention raising the next generation. When society cannot nurture or retain talent, instead holding on to a considerable amount of financial reserves, what good can it do?
The middle class has called for more support. It would be good if the government could do more. But we should not lose sight of those with pressing needs.
We should share what we have with those in greater need and build a more harmonious society. Let's hope our government has the foresight to put resources into better education and healthier lives, giving us hope to meet our challenges and chase our dreams.
Professor Paul Yip is director of the Centre for Suicide Research and Prevention at HKU.