Chapter 21: Recurring Education

21.1 Until quite recent years, higher education has been regarded by both students and employers as a "once and for all time" experience in which the participant was inoculated with the knowledge, skills and attitudes which would last a working lifetime. No booster dose was deemed necessary. As a result, the pedagogic and material resources of higher education were almost entirely devoted to making that single early experience as enriching as possible, and thereafter the beneficiary was left to fend for him or her self. The increasing rapidity of change in both employment patterns and the nature of society has made this "one-shot" philosophy of higher education no longer tenable. Many people will need, either for their own purposes or those of their employer, to participate in higher education on a recurring basis throughout their lives. In this present chapter of our report we shall study this new and growing demand, and consider how it can be satisfied in ways which meet the requirements of the individual and the labour market, and are equitable to the taxpayer.

21.2 The processes of formal learning which we shall examine in this chapter may be undertaken by men and women who have already experienced initial higher education, or they may be part of a "catching up" endeavour by those whose original education ended at secondary level (but see paragraph 21.3). By and large, the participants will be adults with some work experience. Recurring education occurs in many forms and is given a variety of names depending on what is perceived to be its purpose. One of the earliest descriptions was "extra mural" courses - bringing to those outside the walls of higher education institutions some of the opportunities for learning hitherto reserved for those inside the walls. The term "access" courses has a similar flavour - providing the means for those not conventionally qualified to enter nevertheless the precincts of academia. All schemes whose titles include the word "education", such as "adult education" and "further education", tend to put emphasis on the benefit of the experience to the student. Those including the word "training", such as "vocational training" and "industrial training", emphasize the benefit to society. Employers commonly describe their contribution to recurring education as "staff development", even when the main element is training for a specific job. We shall not engage in these semantic differentiations, but will gather all of these forms under the broad title "continuing and professional education"' where the first element nods towards the needs of the student and the second towards the needs of society, but there is no clear distinction between the two, either in the nature of the courses or the potential beneficiaries.


There have been many attempts to define continuing and professional education (CPE). The Education Commission in its Second Report suggested three objectives:

  1. to provide a second chance for those who had to forgo or were denied the opportunity of further education when they left school, or whose requirements for further education develop relatively late in life;

  2. to provide continuing education to update and enhance the training of those who completed their further education at the beginning of their careers;

  3. to provide retraining for those who need to change or extend their career or vocational skills later in life to adapt to technological, economic and social change.


The Federation for Continuing Education in Tertiary Institutions suggests that CPE courses have the following characteristics:

  1. they are predominantly part-time;

  2. they are of comparatively shorter duration than courses of formal higher education; and

  3. they are not generally targeted at immediate school leavers, but are mainly designed to provide a second chance for further study for adults later in life.

21.5 There are in fact no absolute boundaries as to what should or should not be included within CPE, but as a matter of convenience in our own report we shall exclude courses leading to either a first or second degree, and which we have already discussed in Chapters 10 and 12. We shall also exclude sub-degree courses whose main purpose is to lead to an initial higher education qualification, and which have been covered in Chapter 11. This still leaves a rich variety of current offerings for the mature student, whether possessed of an initial tertiary qualification or not.

21.6 From the UGC institutions we have short courses of only a few meetings dealing with generalized skills such as report writing, social English and computer processes, or with very specific topics such as soil contamination or seismic design of buildings. Then there are medium length courses, some of them leading to certificates, covering a very wide range of both leisure and professional interests. The two interests are not easy to separate and are largely determined by the motivation of the individual student, but in the former group may perhaps be listed as exemplars archaeology, music, photography, philosophy, Japanese cuisine, Chinese painting, theatre scenery and costume, ceramics, contemporary China and art conservation, and in the latter banking, marketing, fashion illustration, company law, television production, tax planning, trade with China, packaging and investment in foreign exchange. Some courses in this last group deal with more generalized topics such as decision making or human resource management or quality control. Finally there are the long courses, extending (part-time) over two or three years, leading to diplomas in such areas as corporate administration, housing management or librarianship.

21.7 Outside the UGC institutions, recurring education is mostly orientated towards employment needs, although the knowledge and skills acquired may be of wide applicability. For example, many employers report a requirement for language improvement, particularly in English and Putonghua, and to a lesser extent, in Cantonese and other languages. As well as within the HEIs, facilities are provided by national organizations such as the Alliance Fran(aise or Goethe Institute and by a variety of commercial institutions such as the School of Putonghua or the Japanese Language School.

21.8 The very large number of small enterprises in Hong Kong are mostly unable to provide in-house training for their employees except where the worker learns by performing the task or by watching a colleague. If they engage in staff development beyond specific on-the-job training, it will usually be through the HEIs, government training authorities, or commercial or professional institutes. As examples related to a particular industry, jewellery, we have the Institute of Gemmological Studies at HKBU offering diploma courses in gemmology and a certificate in jewellery retail management, together with short courses on identification and grading of gemstones, inclusions and jewellery production. There are currently some 600 students (headcount). The Hong Kong Institute of Gemmology is a commercial organization, although it works collaboratively with SPACE on some courses. There are 1,100 students. There are again certificate and diploma courses and also evening courses on identification and classification and on jewellery design and the stringing of pearls and semi-precious stones. The VTC has its Jewellery Industry Training Centre at Kwai Chung with 180 full-time craft trainees receiving basic training in goldsmithing and stonesetting, and 105 evening trainees in setting and casting. Other commercial providers include the Rita Jewellery Stringing Centre, with 240 students, which offers courses on setting and stringing, and also on the design and manufacture of fashion accessories incorporating semi-precious stones; and the International Academy of Gemmology which works jointly with the YMCA and has 116 students on a diploma course in gemmology and a further 109 students on short courses. Similar diversity and richness of CPE provision could be quoted for many other industries in Hong Kong, but we hope that this one detailed description for jewellery may give something of the flavour of what is available.

21.9 More general skills in demand by small firms, such as knowledge of computer processes, administrative methods, or financial and legal procedures, can be learned in a great number of public and private institutions including commercial centres and in courses run by professional associations. For example, the Hong Kong Management Association offers many executive development programmes, including courses by distance learning, some of which are aimed at smaller businesses. Not all commercially available through-life education is directly related to the workplace. There are private colleges devoted to music, art and more general cultural themes. Government itself, through the Education Department, offers courses for what it describes as "hobby groups". In addition to governmental, commercial and professional provision, a number of charitable foundations are also engaged in CPE. They may have particular objectives : for example Dharmasthiti College promotes Buddhism, but also offers courses in computer studies, Chinese medicine and several arts subjects.

21.10 Some of the larger organizations in Hong Kong are able to provide recurring education in-house, either from their own resources or by employing external experts. In 1994, government itself spent HK$550m on training its own employees and employed 1,552 full-time and part-time trainers. 89% of the work was done in-house. The Hong Kong Aircraft Engineering Company spent HK$25m on in-house training, although only a small proportion of this could be regarded as CPE. Chase Manhattan Bank spent HK$ 6m on internal training and HK$2.5m on external training, with about 3,500 employees taking internal courses and 600 external ones. Citibank spent HK$2.7m on internal and external training involving some 3,500 employees : 90% of this was in-house. In contrast, Lane Crawford made approximately equal use of internal and external training, with 1,250 employees in each type of course. In-house CPE tends to be more job specific than that available from external agencies, and company training organizations often try to meet localized needs within departments.

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