Published: 00:51, June 8, 2023 | Updated: 14:31, June 9, 2023
Vocational education partnership promotes alignment with national development strategies
By Mervyn Cheung

Education collaboration between the Chinese mainland and the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region has reached new heights recently, scoring impressive achievements in areas of joint offerings of educational programs, student exchange, scientific research cooperation and professional training. 

With some of its higher education institutions attaining world-class stature, Hong Kong is poised to develop into a regional or even international education hub. Of the eight local universities funded through the University Grants Committee, four were rated among the worlds top 60 in the Quacquarelli Symonds (QS) World University Rankings 2023 and in Asias top 20 in the Times Higher Education World University Rankings 2022. In addition, three emerging universities in Hong Kong were ranked among the worlds top 10 in the Times Higher Education Young University Rankings 2022.

The HKSAR government encourages and supports the citys postsecondary institutes to offer education services on the mainland side of the Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao Greater Bay Area (GBA). This has helped develop the GBA as a global education base and created collaborative innovation opportunities for students in Hong Kong and Guangdong. Notable examples of such partnerships include the establishment of Beijing Normal University-Hong Kong Baptist University United International College in Zhuhai in 2005, the Chinese University of Hong Kong (Shenzhen) by the CUHK and Shenzhen University in 2014, and the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology (Guangzhou) in 2022 jointly by HKUST and Guangzhou University.

The HKSAR is facing a shrinking population, a problem it shares with the motherland, which can be tackled with education and organization capable of mobilizing young people that can become a real strength in the long run. With the first reported national population dip in 60 years, the mainland has to prepare its dwindling workforce for high-quality economic growth. These circumstances and demands in the motherland find parallels in Hong Kong, which was confronted last year by a distressingly low number of 32,500 births, registering a 0.9 percent drop to a headcount of 7,333,200 from 7,401,500 in 2021.

The times are changing fast, and vocational skills are assuming critical importance in determining the outcome of intensifying economic competition among countries and regions, many of which have departed from low-cost, labor-dominated industrial production and are on path looking for high-end economic sustainability

Against this testing demographic background and with the impending advent of a new epoch in artificial intelligence, the mainland education authorities are already aware of the need to nurture a skilled workforce across the country. Thus, the nation has, among other development priorities, devised upgraded programs of vocational education to offer an attractive alternative to students for educational and career success. This innovative approach to educational development provides Hong Kong with a feasible and sustainable solution now that the city is facing growing erosion of production capacity in its various industries by a shortage of labor. It was estimated in October that by 2027, the HKSAR will suffer from a shortfall of 170,000 workers. This had yet to incorporate the negative effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Apart from the founding of the Greater Bay Area Association of Academicians in April 2021 to pool the advantages of the cities involved for sharing and cooperation, Chinas Ministry of Education has been farsighted enough to open up high-level vocational training institutes for expanded intakes of students from Hong Kong and Macao. The program endorses sub-degree students from Hong Kong to receive advanced vocational education at the degree level in Shenzhen, based on the objective to achieve full connectivity of education and credential recognition throughout Guangdong and the two SARs which take the form of cross appointment of teaching staff, cross attendance of courses, and cross recognition of credits.

In the vocational education partnership between Shenzhen and the two SARs, a landmark was imparted by the formation of the Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao Greater Bay Area Vocational Education Park, which officially opened on March 17. Encompassing a large area of 8,930 square meters in Shenzhens Nanshan district, the park has logged an investment of 38 million yuan ($5.39 million), comprising teaching area, science and innovation space, laboratories, exhibition halls and other functional facilities. Jointly established by the Shenzhen Polytechnic and Hong Kongs Vocational Training Council, the institution has actualized the concept of integrated development of vocational studies connecting domestic and overseas enterprises and organizations to foster more outstanding vocational talents for the GBA a significant high-end national development strategy planned, deployed and promoted by President Xi Jinping. It empowers the GBAs industrial upgrading through building a center for global vocational education. In summing up the contributions of the initiative, Secretary for Education Christine Choi Yuk-lin stressed that collaborative development of vocational education between Shenzhen and the two SARs promotes the alignment of Hong Kong with national development strategies, in addition to generating an important driving force for the GBAs high-quality development by cultivating more vocational talents for the GBA by collectively setting curriculum standards, introducing teachers, joint management, launching training programs and awarding qualifications from both sides.

The times are changing fast, and vocational skills are assuming critical importance in determining the outcome of intensifying economic competition among countries and regions, many of which have departed from low-cost, labor-dominated industrial production and are on path looking for high-end economic sustainability. Undoubtedly, Hong Kong is facing formidable challenges from a decline in its population, but population size is not entirely decisive in determining the level of productivity and prosperity. Increasingly, there are convincing grounds to believe that competition among economies is determined by the degree of skillfulness of their workforces. This explains why the mainland authorities aim to train 10 million skilled workers a year.

The author is a member of the Chinese Association of Hong Kong and Macao Studies.

The views do not necessarily reflect those of China Daily.