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Thursday, March 14, 2019, 11:02
Professional education is vital to making Bay Area a leading innovation hub
By Liu Ningrong
Thursday, March 14, 2019, 11:02 By Liu Ningrong

Liu Ningrong discusses the crucial role professional education will play in the visionary plan and says HK can capitalize on its rich expertise in this area 

The Outline Development Plan for the Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao Greater Bay Area was much anticipated in Hong Kong. The plan advocates further integration and collaboration in the Pearl River Delta and this has opened up new and exciting opportunities for us.

The blueprint centers on establishing the innovation and technology industries in the Bay Area, while highlighting the importance of developing modern service industries. In this context, Hong Kong is in particular given a special role to promote the development of its professional services. 

While Hong Kong’s role has been clearly defined in policy initiatives, it’s still up in the air how the city can grab the opportunities presented to us unprecedentedly. The success of the ambitious plan to transform the Bay Area into a Silicon Valley-style innovation hub and to develop the modern service industry will undoubtedly depend on the strength of its talents.

For the past development of reshaping our city into the center of professional services, and the history of professional education for talent training, Hong Kong is best positioned as a center of excellence to offer professional programs to meet the rising needs for talents in the Bay Area

However, one area that has not received sufficient attention — but it’s clearly what we can contribute to develop this innovation powerhouse — is professional education, which we have more than 60 years of rich experience, even though we’re equally facing the urgency to revamp our own system in professional education in order to meet up the new demands.

Professional education can date back to 100 years ago when the rising needs called for the medical services, and later on, the legal services. This development expanded to a new era when universities established many professional schools, which include the business school and the journalism school, among many others. 

With the higher education boom occurring in the Western countries decades ago, however, professional education has gone beyond its original scope and increased its importance to provide the academic programs which are applied or interdisciplinary in focus, and to help students prepare for careers in specific fields. Take Columbia University’s School of Professional Studies for example. It currently offers 25 professional master degree programs in the interdisciplinary areas which are not available in other schools within the university. They are most valuable for people with professional experience looking to develop their skills. Thus, professional education can boost talent development in the Bay Area. 

This is highly crucial, considering that the overall GDP share of the tertiary sector in the Bay Area is only 62.2 percent, in comparison with 89.4 percent for the New York Metropolitan Area and 82.5 percent for the San Francisco Bay Area, according to Hong Kong Trade Development Council. While Hong Kong has shifted from a manufacturing-based economy to a service economy with the tertiary sector counting more than 92 percent of overall GDP output in 2017, Shenzhen only generates as low as 52 percent of GDP from the same sector.

For the past development of reshaping our city into the center of professional services, and the history of professional education for talent training, Hong Kong is best positioned as a center of excellence to offer professional programs to meet the rising needs for talents in the Bay Area.

Clearly, even with the increasing number of university graduates in both the Chinese mainland and Hong Kong, the supply of talents remains the primary challenge facing all businesses and industries in the region — which is regarded as one of the most vibrant, dynamic, and rapidly growing economies in the world. 

Professional education, which is considered as the prolonged, specialized, and intellectual training, is the best formula and a way forward in dealing with the talent demand. According to the local authorities in Qianhai, they need to attract at least 650,000 professionals to work in Shenzhen’s free economic zone in their attempt to build China’s Manhattan. Indeed, this number only shows the iceberg tip for the talent needs revived by the new development of the Bay Area.

However, the specialized knowledge and technical skills required of all types of professionals are usually not provided in their four-year undergraduate studies. This is not uncommon in many countries. And professional education can respond to the emerging needs much quicker than the traditional university courses, and the curriculum designed for the applied and professional programs always focus on the latest developments in the specific discipline to better serve the needs of learners.

My own experience in the professional education sector over the past 10 years clearly demonstrates the huge market potential for professional education in the Chinese mainland and the advantage the universities in Hong Kong can offer. By launching 20 postgraduate-level professional management programs under HKU SPACE’s Institute for China Business, we have enrolled more than 13,000 working professionals and executives, including Hong Kong permanent residents living in the Bay Area.

Another important feature characterized in professional education is lifelong learning, so that citizens can keep intellectually alive and informed after completing their higher and formal education. It is the responsibilities of each individual to carry out the continuous learning in order to acquire the employability and competitive strengths. Therefore, it will be less controversial for the universities in Hong Kong to engage in such endeavors across the boundary since no government funding is involved in such activities.

More importantly, the venture on cross-boundary cooperation in professional education will bring various professionals from the two sides together, which in return will help enrich the talent pools in Hong Kong when the city is innovating itself to play an everchanging role as a “super connector” for China. Hence we should not overlook this opportunity that can capitalize on our own strengths and benefit people on both sides.

The author is deputy director of School of Professional and Continuing Education, the University of Hong Kong.


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