EDUCATION keeps Hong Kong on the leading edge of a rapidly changing world and it is close to the heart of the Government - with over 20 per cent of the annual expenditure going into it. The comment by Governor Chris Patten on the first day of the 4th Hong Kong Education and Careers Expo last week, highlighted the importance of the territory's largest exhibition of its kind. Organised jointly by the Trade Development Council (TDC) and the Labour Department, the four-day fair attracted over 180,000 visitors at the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre. Of the 170 exhibitors, 96 were educational institutions (65 from overseas) and the remainder comprising private enterprises, professional associations and government departments. ''Investment in education and training ensures individuals in society get the most of life and put the most back into it,'' Mr Patten said. This year the largest number of overseas exhibitors came from Australia - almost five times those from the US, Britain and Canada. France took part for the first time by introducing the American University of Paris to locals. Other exhibitors included New Zealand, Switzerland, Ireland, Taiwan and Macau. Students were spoiled for choices in Britain as the British Council's ongoing biennial British Education Exhibition (BEE) coincided with the event, offering another 180 educational booths, 40 more than last time. The additional participants included boarding schools and further education colleges, said Ms Amy Wong-Chiang, British Council's deputy education counsellor. ''This indicates that Hong Kong students are doing well in the UK. There is a steady flow of students to Britain and the BEE is the biggest show organised by the council in Southeast Asia.'' Ms Wong Chiang noticed a new trend in British education. ''Recognising the importance of a good foundation in first year college, more further education colleges are now working with higher education institutes to provide access or bridging courses for fresh undergraduates.'' Also, there was a 10 per cent increase in the number of schools joining organised visits to the Expo this year. About 12,000 students from 107 schools registered. Labour Department officer Chung Chow-yuen said: ''Fixed time school visits gave students the advantage of receiving advanced information on schedules of the 60 seminars and 130 video shows.'' The department's booth this time had three computer games that helped users find jobs that suited their qualifications and also offered them tips on the demands of these jobs. Besides over 200 job sheets, basic information on selected professions was also provided. The Civil Aviation also made a comeback looking for new recruits after a year's absence. There is a demand for trainees in air traffic control for the new airport project.