Hong Kong has radicalised a whole generation of young people. Officials may labour under the illusion that they spend lots of money on education which delivers good outcomes, at least as measured by international benchmarks such as Pisa, or the Programme for International Student Assessment, a worldwide study administered by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development. However, by many other matrices, the city lags seriously behind many Asian developed countries and OECD economies. That is according to a recent study from the research office of the Legislative Council. Top Hong Kong universities see drop in latest world rankings Some of our low rankings are quite shocking. Last year, Hong Kong ranked 20th out of 63 economies in terms of investing in and developing home-grown talent; and 53rd in total public expenditure on education in the same report by the International Institute for Management Development. On education resources spent on secondary students, the city ranked 30th on education per pupil and was rated 27th in the pupil-teacher ratio. Meanwhile, the 2019 Global Innovation Index ranked Hong Kong 48th in education among 129 economies. Those are not results to write home about. To improve on those rankings in the coming years and decades, the government will have to spend a lot more on education In absolute terms, we may be spending more today than at the beginning of the decade, from HK$60.7 billion to HK$112.3 billion. But as a percentage of total public expenditure, public education spending has declined, from 20.1 per cent in 2010-2011 to 15.4 per cent in the current budget year. As a proportion of total recurrent government expenditure, recurrent education spending also exhibited a declining trend from 22.9 per cent to 20.5 per cent over the past decade. In growth terms, education spending has registered year-on-year growth of 7.2 per cent in this budget year, the third lowest among 10 major policy areas. There is an obvious reason for that. We are among the world’s fastest ageing societies with some of the lowest birth rates. People just aren’t having children, leading to a declining student population. Faced with ageing society and brain drain, how can Hong Kong retain talent? There is also a reason for some of our low rankings. Twenty per cent seems to be roughly the unofficial ceiling on education spending. To improve on those rankings in the coming years and decades, the government will have to spend a lot more on education. But given the pressure of deficits on its fiscal reserves, not least from the Covid-19 health crisis, that’s unlikely. Maybe that’s why we are better at turning out young protesters than innovators.