Hong Kong should take a more proactive approach in attracting world-class institutions if it wants to become an international academic hub, the head of a leading business school says. SCMP August 1 When you read or hear of academics telling people to be more proactive, get ready for a profound and very learned pronouncement - gimme more money. On this occasion it was pronounced by Dipak Jain, the dean of Insead, a business school that has operations in France, Abu Dhabi and Singapore, and wants to expand its operations further in Asia. Personally, I have my doubts about the value of business schools. They talk a lot of theoretical nonsense in their pretence that they can systematise life. The real fact of life applicable to them is that the longer you spend in academia, the more unfit you render yourself for commerce. But that's not the way our chief executive thinks. He controls the strings of the public purse and has declared education one of his six pillar industries. Jain obviously thinks business schools fit perfectly into the education pillar and that Insead is one of the best candidates. This would account for his message to us - get on with it, Donald. There is a problem, however, in establishing our city as an international educational hub. Someone has to pay for teaching, housing, feeding and amusing the students we need to attract from abroad. Who is it to be? The home governments of these students won't do it, the kids themselves don't have the money and their parents are not going to pay the full whack unless, at a minimum, this education hub is called Harvard or Oxford. They expect to get a cheap deal. It's the only reason they would ever pick a school in Hong Kong for their kids. Thus the game is that we must pour money out of our public purse to educate people who have no connection with Hong Kong other than that they have come here for education and may or may not maintain some connection after they leave again. You may say, of course, that it is all worthwhile because it brings us influence in a globalised world and greater international awareness of our unique identity. I have a deal for you if you indeed think this worthwhile. I will sell you warm feelings of awareness and influence for the very low price of HK$1,000 per dozen. You may buy as many you wish. Please do. I am happy to make this trade any time you choose. And I think Donald, too, may have started leaning towards this view, or certainly will when he confronts the cost of establishing an educational hub. It will be horrifically costly. This may explain why work has not yet started on any of the six sites earmarked for building private universities. If good sense prevails, we may find six pillar industries reduced to five. Let's remember that we already devote an enormous amount of money to education as things stand. Education is the government's single biggest budget item and, together with what people pay directly in school fees, we now spend more than HK$100 billion a year on formalised learning. It shows up in the educational attainment figures. Fully a quarter of our workforce has graduated from degree-granting tertiary institutions of education. That's double the figure of 14 years ago. A third of the workforce has tertiary education of some kind. But is it required for the jobs they then get? Flight attendants, for instance, are now routinely university graduates. How many years of education does it take to roll a trolley down an aisle and say 'beef or chicken, sir'? There has to be a point where more education just becomes too much of a good thing and is best left for people to pursue in a less formalised environment. You need a master's degree these days to have any employer take notice of your educational attainments. Without nearly 20 years of schooling you can't even expect to get a job for your efforts. This is getting ridiculous. And it's why I think we should just wave Professor Jain a cheery goodbye and show him the way to the airport. Go sell it to Shanghai, sir. They buy into all kinds of fool ideas up there.