WHILE people are heavily concerned with the political future of the territory, has similar attention ever been given to the future conduct of professional examinations and the qualifications they confer following the transfer of sovereignty? It is understood that the question of post-1997 recognition for professional qualifications that have been awarded in various trades has been on the agenda for the culture and education sub-group of the Preliminary Working Committee for the future Special Administrative Region of Hong Kong Preparatory Committee that met in Beijing early this week. Discussions on this subject should not be allowed to escape the attention of the Hong Kong community on account of the significant impact of the system of professions on future manpower gearing and the sustenance of Hong Kong's economic achievements. The ultimate decisions must safeguard the interests of our society at large. Conventionally, the system of professions in Hong Kong is essentially a British-led model where the conduct of professional examinations and the consequent award of qualifications are done almost exclusively by overseas bodies. This is true for local professions like law, surveying, linguists, engineering, and partly accountancy. Can anyone, however, tell for sure now that the current system of holding qualifying examinations will continue in Hong Kong for most professional trades after 1997? If this does not happen, does it mean that the existing institutions are able to produce within the next four years all the professional hands that are required by our economy for a long, long time to come? AT the moment, there are no fewer than 100,000 candidates sitting every year for the various professional examinations arranged by the pertinent overseas (primarily British) organisations. Of the many professional bodies in the territory, it seems that only the Hong Kong Society of Accountants is playing a direct role in running in conjunction with its British counterparts a professional written test for candidates in Hong Kong. Its participation is, however, understood to be presently confined to the setting of questions for a small proportion of the overall examination. There are some professional institutes here that do not run any written tests for aspiring individuals, but seek to admit as their members only holders of degree or degree equivalent academic credentials. In so doing, they exclude prospective young adults with a lower level of academic attainment. Is it not time for the local system of professions to acquire a higher degree of openness and offer more accessible routes for promising young men and women to work for rewarding careers in professions through a system of well-supported self-learning and qualifying tests? For the benefit of Hong Kong, the culture and education sub-group of the PWC and the Hong Kong Government should both consider without delay a viable mechanism for assessing and empowering professional bodies to organise qualifying examinations with a view to conferring degree-equivalent professional awards. Meanwhile, there is a case for a fund to be set aside to assist the local professions to start a secretariat which would help each profession to enforce sufficiently vigorously and systematically the respective codes of practice and any legislated responsibility of conducting qualifying examinations. In the initial stage, this can be done in collaboration with relevant counterparts in other countries.