The implementation of the new secondary school diploma in Hong Kong will result in a double cohort of graduates in 2012, further intensifying the competition for opportunities in further education or vocational training.
On the career front, the latest information on employment options has helped to sharpen the competitive edge of individuals looking for a shift in their careers, or other employment opportunities amid the volatile global economic conditions.
More and more employees aiming for career advancement also see the need to further equip themselves by enrolling in continuing knowledge and skill-enhancing programmes.
The annual Hong Kong Trade Development Council (HKTDC) Education and Careers Expo provides an important platform connecting students, job seekers and career-shifters with over 720 local and overseas educational institutions and professionals associations, as well as government departments and private enterprises in search of new recruits.
This year marks a major transition in Hong Kong's educational system - it is the first year that secondary school students will complete the '3-3-4' curriculum and sit the Hong Kong Diploma of Secondary Education (HKDSE) examinations. Together with those students who will receive their A-level certificates, the total number of the double-cohort graduates is likely to top 110,000 this year.
'[Given the larger number of graduates,] we expect to see a surge in students' demand for information about further education opportunities available both locally and abroad,' says Clare Wong, assistant executive director, HKTDC.
Apart from those attending local universities and colleges, hundreds of thousands of Hong Kong students pursue further studies abroad for the academic qualifications and diverse cultural experiences this bestows.
To help parents and students obtain more specific information on education options outside Hong Kong, HKTDC will organise four study-theme days at the expo - covering mainland China, Europe, Australia and the United States.
'During these theme days, specialists will host seminars to share the latest updates on studies in these regions,' Wong adds.
'Universities and colleges from Australia will have a strong presence at the expo,' says Linda Yan, trade commissioner, consul (commercial), at the Australian Trade Commission, adding that the country has long been among the most popular education destinations for Hong Kong families, with an accumulated total of 100,000 students hailing from the city in the past six years.
Individuals need not actually go to Australia to study. 'Around 11,000 students undertake 250 transnational programmes in Hong Kong, which deliver Australian qualifications,' Yan says.
On the Australian study theme day, specialists will share tips on plans for careers in unusual disciplines, such as forensic science and aviation, in addition to information on university admission requirements, Yan says.
Meanwhile, 63 universities from the mainland will introduce an exemption from entrance examinations for Hong Kong secondary graduates this year, according to Dr Law Wing-cheung, principal of Heung To College of Professional Studies.
Among these universities, Jinan University in Guangdong and Jimei University in Fujian will exhibit at the expo.
'Hong Kong students are increasingly attracted by the further-education opportunities in China because of the thriving economic developments and more competitive tuition,' Law says.
'The entrance exam exemption targets the current year's holders of HKDSE and A-level certificates. Entry requirements are similar to those of local universities,' he adds.
Interested students can obtain more detailed information on the entrance exam exemption at the expo, says Law. 'The universities will accept applications from the end of February until March, and will conduct interviews with candidates in April,' he adds. 'They will admit students based on their performance at the interviews and their exams results.'
Hong Kong is an established regional financial centre and the finance industry contributes substantially to the local economy, which is heavily dependent on knowledge and services. At the expo, a host of educational institutions and professional associations will provide guidance to visitors interested in courses that can help them upgrade their finance-focused professional knowledge and skills.
Among them is Kaplan Hong Kong, which organises business courses in several fields, including accounting and finance, advanced language training, as well as degree programmes conducted by teaching faculties of overseas universities, says Kenny Chan, a representative of Kaplan. It also offers courses to help students to prepare for overseas university entrance exams, including the Scholastic Aptitude Tests (SAT) and Graduate Management Assessment Test (GMAT).
The expo will also feature more than 60 career-focused events. These will include seminars and insight-sharing sessions conducted by celebrities in the performing arts, Wong says.
Past sessions attracted enthusiastic participation by visitors because Hong Kong's artistic and cultural developments are gathering momentum, thanks to the large-scale West Kowloon Cultural District project that is currently underway.
Benefitting from the strong increase in tourist arrivals, particularly from mainland China, the city's tourism and hospitality industry is flourishing. Hong Kong will see an additional 5,000 hotel rooms become available this year, which will further drive the demand for well-qualified professionals on all levels in the industry, says Kennie Ho, faculty director of the Hong Kong Hospitality and Tourism Academy.
The organisation offers training courses, diploma and degree programmes with entry requirements matching this year's school leavers, as well as graduates of diploma courses of the Institutes of Vocational Education and Project Yi Jin, says Ho. 'The employment rate of our graduates is over 90 per cent,' he adds.
The expo at a glance
February 9 to 12, 2012
Open to the public for free, with around 720 exhibitors from 14 countries and regions
Exhibitors include local and overseas universities, colleges, schools of continuing education, vocational training institutes and language schools
Exhibitors include private corporations, government departments and professional organisations
Four study-theme days
Mainland China, Australia, Europe and the United States
The Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre (HKCEC)