Chapter 23: The Users and Beneficiaries of CPE

23.1 Recurring education may be of benefit to the individual student, his or her employer, or the economic or social well-being of the whole Hong Kong community. As part of our study of CPE, we commissioned an economic analysis by a research team from CUHK on the costs, benefits, trends and issues associated with continuing education. We shall refer to the outcome from this economic analysis as the CHL Report (from the names of its authors, Drs Chung Yue-ping, Ho Lok-sang and Liu Pak-wai). The Committee has also had the benefit of discussions with the Federation for Continuing Education in Tertiary Institutions (see paragraph 21.4) and with representatives of the CPE units (SPACE, SCS, PACE, SCOPE and SCE), all of whom had previously read the CHL Report. The present section draws upon all of these sources.

23.2 The CHL Report makes the argument for recurring education in the terms: "The half-life of knowledge and skills is shortening............continual updating and re-investing will be necessary as (adults') knowledge capital gets depleted with working experience." The Report goes on to state that there are two particular reasons why mid-career retraining is important in Hong Kong : "First, as a small open economy, Hong Kong must compete internationally for trade and investments. It has owed much of its past success to being able to adapt to changes to out-compete its rivals. Operating in a highly competitive international environment, the labour force of Hong Kong must be very flexible in upgrading the services it provides and shifting between production of different products. This flexibility and quickness to adapt necessarily imply that there will be a high rate of skill and knowledge obsolescence as well as labour turnover in Hong Kong's labour force. Second, Hong Kong is undergoing a phase of rapid economic restructuring."

23.3 The key word in the last sentence is "rapid". The shares of manufacturing (21%) and service (69%) in employment in Hong Kong (in 1993) are similar to those in the UK and US, but the decline in manufacturing which has led to this position has occurred in a much shorter period - essentially since the opening of China to production investment in 1978. The CHL Report goes on: "In the last decade the manufacturing sector has shed 282,000 jobs while the service sector has gained 681,000. Within the manufacturing industries, there is also a drastic shift in job composition as the proportion of employees in management, design, merchandising, marketing and trade financing increases rapidly while production jobs are being progressively eliminated. As the cost of services escalates in Hong Kong, back-room service operations such as computer back up, airline reservation, cheque clearing are now also being moved across the border into Shenzhen. Therefore, the composition of service sector jobs also begins to shift from the low value-added end towards the high value-added end such as legal services, accounting, consulting, engineering and architecture services, surveying and financing services. Hong Kong is becoming a regional professional services centre which provides one-stop services of a wide range for the region."

23.4 In commenting on the implications of this rapid change for the individual worker, the CHL Report states: "During this restructuring period, hundreds of thousands of employees in the manufacturing sector as well as in the service sector literally find that their skills have become obsolete overnight. Consequently there has been an enormous demand for retraining. The very active and extensive market for continuing education in Hong Kong has by and large catered to the need for retraining and re-investing in new skills of these displaced employees remarkably well. Indeed the private market for continuing education has functioned so well that the government did not have to step in until 1992 to set up the Employee Retraining Board, but even when it did, it only aimed at retraining displaced manufacturing workers at the very low skill end, and the scale is rather modest, involving only a few thousand trainees. Throughout these years, in comparison, the numerous providers of continuing education from the HEIs, VTC, OLI, Caritas and other non-profit organisations as well as profit-making commercial training firms had equipped hundreds of thousands of adult workers with higher level skills."

23.5 In a survey of the current profile of CPE students in the universities and the OLI, the CHL Report gives a number of tables some of which we reproduce below:

Table 23.1 Percentage of Students by Age Group

Age Group Labour force (1994:Q1) Award-bearing Courses

Non-award-bearing Courses

20 or below 2.8 2.6 5.6
21-29 28.7 59.4 57.9
30-39 32.6 29.6 27.9
40+ 35.8 8.4 8.6

Source : CHL Report

Table 23.2 Percentage of Students by Sex and Marital Status

Sex/Marital Status Labour Force (1994:Q1) Award-bearing Courses Non-award-bearing Courses
Male 62.7 41.0 33.9
Female 37.3 59.0 66.1
Ever Married and below 40 41.8 30.7 26.3
Single and below 40 58.3 69.3 73.7

Source :CHL Report

Table 23.3 Percentage of Students by Occupation

Occupation Labour Force (1994:Q1) Award-bearing Courses Non-award-bearing Courses
Administrative/ Managerial 9.3 17.0 12.7
Administrative/ Managerial 15.0 40.5 28.3
Clerks/related 19.5 24.9 38.6
Sales/Service Workers 14.0 6.3 6.5
Craft/related Prod. 12.5 0.4 1.0
Others 29.7 10.9 12.9

Source :CHL Report

Table 23.4 Percentage of Students by Industry

Industry Labour Force (1994:Q1) Award-bearing Courses Non-award-bearing Courses
Manufacturing 20.9 9.0 8.5
Construction 7.7 6.2 6.6
Wholesale/Retail/ Restaurant/Hotel/Import/ Export Trade 29.4 21.7 27
Transport, Storage, and Communication 12.1 6.1 7.3
Financing, Insurance, Real Estate and Business Services 11.1 34.3 39.3
Community, Social and Personal Services 18.8 22.6 11.3
Total* 100 100 100

* Some Industries are excluded from the 100 percent.
Source :CHL Report


23.6 The high representation of young people among the students, and the low representation of those over 40, is to be expected since the young are more likely to be interested in career development and change, and have longer in which to reap the benefits of additional skills or knowledge. The high proportion of single students is clearly related to their greater time availability than that of married students. What is more surprising is the preponderance of female students. It may be that this represents an attempt to recover from missed educational opportunities at an earlier stage. 

23.7 In turning to the occupational distribution of students, we have to remember that the survey was for the universities and OLI only. Their courses are not generally appropriate for sales and production workers whose needs are covered by other providers such as the VTC. The distribution of CPE students by industry reflects the economic restructuring on which we commented in earlier paragraphs. The fast growing service industries have a substantial need for training and retraining, and are over-represented in relation to their number of employees compared with the declining manufacturing sector. A factor not covered in the tables above is the time students have spent in their present job. The CHL survey showed that about half of the students on award bearing CPE courses had been in their current job for two years or less. 46% of the single CPE students and 30% of the married ones planned to change jobs, and most saw continuing education as an agent for job change. The majority of short tenure students not contemplating a change of job came from firms without in-house training : they may well see CPE in the universities or OLI as a substitute. 

23.8 There is some evidence that CPE as an aid to job change is seen as more potent than it is for upgrading skills appropriate to the present job. A striking result from the CHL survey is that, following participation in a CPE course, half of the students who experienced a job change also experienced a career change - that is, they moved to a quite different occupation and not merely to a similar job with a new employer. CPE is regarded as particularly good at enabling this, and the CHL report concludes that in terms of descending order of effectiveness, continuing and professional education (i) facilitates career change, (ii) facilitates job change, and (iii) improves performance in the current job. 

23.9 In the preceding paragraphs we have described the usefulness of CPE to Hong Kong and to the individual student largely in terms of economic benefit - the restructuring of employment, changes of career or job, and improved performance - and we have quoted extensively from the economic analysis which we commissioned. There are, however, large numbers of continuing education courses, mostly not award bearing, which satisfy cultural, leisure and practical needs both of the individual and society. A random sample might include flute playing, traditional Chinese knotting, theories of knowledge, photography, landscape painting, amateur archaeology, astronomy, Chinese opera, wine appreciation and car repair. For the enrichment of our society and the satisfaction of the individual it is very important that this substantial and diverse provision should be maintained. There is some evidence that it is particularly attractive to older age groups, but the data is not easy to interpret since 90% of all CPE courses are non-award bearing, and the majority of these are probably closely related to the student's employment. 

23.10 The final beneficiaries of CPE whom we have yet to discuss are the employers. In fact an increasing number of employers also feature as students, particularly on management courses, but in the present chapter we are concerned with their role in relation to the continuing and professional education of their employees. The CHL Report states "From the perspectives of firms, continuing education is important for enhancing worker productivity either by improving skills for the present job assignment or by imparting new skills for worker re-deployment. Firms can either arrange in-house training for their workers, contract training programmes to outside agencies, or encourage their workers to take various continuing education programmes offered by the higher education institutions. The policy and general attitude of firms towards continuing education and worker training influence the demand for continuing education directly and indirectly." 

23.11 In an endeavour to elicit employers' actions and attitudes in relation to CPE, the authors of the CHL Report circularised all firms listed on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange. The response rate to their questionnaire was 28%. Of those firms which replied, 50% provided formal in-house training for their employees and 35% used external agencies (mostly private institutions) to give tailor-made programmes. The two approaches were not alternatives : firms giving in-house training themselves commonly supplemented it with courses by outside agencies. Firms were generally supportive of their employees taking courses offered by UGC institutions, statutory bodies such as the VTC and private colleges, but help (if any) was more commonly provided by subsidising fees than by giving time off work. 

23.12 The principal benefit of CPE to the employer is improved productivity. The principal cost is higher turnover as employees use their new skills to change jobs. Of the firms responding to the CHL questionnaire, 55% felt that CPE courses led to improved productivity with no extra turnover, 17% felt that both productivity and turnover increased, 22% that neither were altered, and 6% that the effects of CPE were entirely adverse, with no improvement in productivity, but increased loss of skilled employees. These responses are summarised in Figure 23.1: 

Figure 23.1 Employers' Views of the Results of CPE

Figure 23.1

Source : Based on data from CHL Report

Firms seem to be well aware of the benefits and costs of CPE, and this may explain their attitude towards courses given by UGC institutions, although the evidence is not entirely clear. Such courses tend to be more generalised than those provided by private agencies, and in some cases lead to publicly recognised qualifications. They may therefore give better opportunity for job change, and are certainly regarded in that light by students. Firms say that they are in favour of their employees attending courses at UGC institutions, but they are in practice less inclined to subsidise their doing so than for courses run by the statutory and private agencies. It has to be remembered, however, that fees for UGC courses are generally lower and students do not find them burdensome.

Report Menu  Prev Chapter  Next Chapter