Hong Kong continuing education subsidies not enough, study finds, as number of claims down 73 per cent
Legco report notes maximum amount per applicant has not changed since programme began in 2002
Applications to claim Hong Kong government subsidies for continuing education have plummeted 73 per cent since 2006, suggesting an incentive scheme has been ineffectual, according to a Legislative Council study released on Friday.
The study by the Legco Secretariat also found the city’s participation rate in continuing education was lower than that of many other developed economies.
Reviewing figures from the government’s Continuing Education Fund, the study showed the number of claims had dropped from an all-time high of 73,138 in financial year 2006 to 19,912 last year.
“The falling number of claims might reflect, among other things, the fund’s insufficiency for those keen to pursue studies and a narrow scope of courses the fund covers,” the study stated.
Officials set up the fund in 2002 to subsidise continuing education. Every Hong Kong resident aged between 18 and 65 is eligible to receive a maximum subsidy of HK$10,000 in his or her lifetime. Applicants can apply for reimbursement of 80 per cent of fees of any course registered with the fund. Each person can submit at most four claims within a four-year period when a fund account has been opened.
But the HK$10,000 subsidy ceiling had been inadequate, the study said. The maximum subsidy amount for each applicant has not changed since 2002. And study costs in the city increased 19.8 per cent between 2002 and last year.
While some 7,900 courses are available for subsidy applicants, the study questioned the scope of eligible courses. The fund currently does not include massive open online course – a web-based distance learning programme that is generally patterned on college or university offerings.
It found people with long working hours could benefit from the flexibility afforded by such online courses.
“Twenty-four-hour access to course materials and self-paced learning should be of particular relevance to Hong Kong,” it stated.
In 2013, about 25 per cent of the city residents between the ages of 18 and 64 were engaged in continuing education. That figure distantly lagged the number in Singapore, which tallied 55 per cent for residents of the city state between the ages of 25 and 64.
A Singaporean programme named SkillsFuture encouraged firms and individuals to invest in continuing education and was worth Hong Kong’s consideration, the study noted.
In the government-backed programme, qualifying Singaporeans see their continuing education allocation added directly to their credit account. Subsidies range from 50 to 95 per cent of course fees.
Lawmaker Michael Tien Puk-sun called for Hong Kong’s subsidy amount to be raised to HK$20,000.
“By increasing to HK$20,000, many low-income people could at least take a diploma course and not have to bear the full expense themselves,” he said.