Following is a question by the Hon Charles Peter Mok and a written reply by the Secretary for Labour and Welfare, Dr Law Chi-kwong, in the Legislative Council today (March 28):
Some information technology (IT) practitioners have relayed that they need to incessantly undertake continuing education in order to grasp the ever-evolving IT professional skills. Such skills involve quite a number of areas such as data science, information security, financial technology, big data application, cloud computing, systems audit and project management. People working in various trades and industries also need continuing education to acquire the skills of applying the latest IT so as to maintain their competitiveness. However, tuition fees for continuing education courses as well as fees for examinations and certifications on professional qualifications are expensive, and yet many courses on IT professional skills (including web-based distance learning courses) and fees for professional qualification examinations are not within the funding scope of the Continuing Education Fund (CEF). Members of the industry have relayed that the scope of the Reimbursable Course List of CEF is so narrow that IT practitioners can hardly benefit from CEF. In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:
(1) of the number of persons, in each of the past five years, who applied to CEF for reimbursement of tuition fees upon completion of courses on IT and communications, with a tabulated breakdown by institution which offered the course and by course title;
(2) of the (i) number of persons who opened a CEF account, (ii) number of persons whose cumulative amount for reimbursement applications had reached the subsidy ceiling of $10,000, and (iii) number of cases in which the CEF account had been frozen due to the expiry of the four-year time limit and the total amount of money not reimbursed on account of that, in each year since CEF’s establishment in 2002;
(3) of the number of reimbursement applications made to CEF in each year since its establishment, and among such applications, (i) the number of those approved and the total amount involved, as well as (ii) the number of those rejected (with a breakdown by the reason for rejection);
(4) as the Government indicated at the end of last year that all courses registered in the Qualifications Register (QR) of the Qualifications Framework (QF) would be included in the Reimbursable Course List of CEF, of the courses in QR which are courses on IT professional skills and set out in a table the titles of such courses by the institution offering the courses; in respect of the courses belonging to the area of “computer science and information technology” which have been registered in QR and are reimbursable, whether it has assessed if the courses under this area have covered training courses that teach the latest IT professional skills; if it has assessed and the outcome is in the negative, whether it will include in this area the latest preparatory courses for professional examinations (e.g. courses on Certified Ethical Hacker and Information Security Certifications);
(5) whether it will consider afresh including quality web-based distance learning IT courses in the Reimbursable Course List of CEF; as currently there are quite a number of quality web-based distance learning IT courses (including massive open online courses) which do not charge tuition fees but charge fees for skill certifications upon completion of the courses, whether the authorities will consider including such courses in the Reimbursable Course List of CEF so that people taking such courses can have the certification fees reimbursed;
(6) whether it will further encourage the cooperation among the business sector, technology companies, IT professional associations and tertiary institutions in organising QF-recognised IT courses, offering internship opportunities, scholarships and professional certifications for students of such courses, as well as providing subsidies to the graduates and serving practitioners for taking short-term courses;
(7) given the keen demand in the market for talents who have mastered IT skills, whether the Government will provide additional incentives to encourage (i) working people to take the relevant courses, and (ii) the middle-aged to change their professions and join the relevant trades; and
(8) whether it will conduct studies and consult members of the IT industry on the demand for IT talents, and formulate comprehensive strategies for nurturing the workforce’s digital skills and talents, including the setting of the targets and timetables for the relevant manpower training?
To further encourage members of the public to pursue continuing education and skill enhancement, the Government has earlier announced a series of enhancement measures of Continuing Education Fund (CEF), including the expansion of the scope of CEF courses to all courses registered in the Qualifications Register (QR) (Note 1). There will be no more specified course domains under CEF. Courses on a wide spectrum of aspects or skills can be registered as CEF courses as long as they are registered in the QR. The number of eligible CEF courses will increase from about 7 800 at present to at least 11 800. This will meet the ever-changing social and occupational needs as well as the long-term development of Hong Kong. Moreover, it is announced in the 2018-19 Budget that the Government will raise the subsidy ceiling of CEF from the current level of $10,000 to $20,000 per applicant, and further inject an additional funding of $8.5 billion into CEF. Other enhancement measures include the relaxation of the upper age limit for applicants from 65 to 70, lifting of restrictions on validity period and maximum number of claims, and enhancement of the quality assurance monitoring of CEF courses. The aforesaid series of enhancement measures will substantially increase the choices and flexibility for learners, streamline the administrative arrangements and strengthen the safeguards for learners’ interests. Having consulted the relevant policy bureaux, my reply to the Member’s question is as follows:
(1) Currently CEF courses are categorised under eight specified domains (i.e. Business Services, Financial Services, Logistics, Tourism, Creative Industries, Design, Languages, and Interpersonal and Intrapersonal Skills for the Workplace) as well as the Specification of Competency Standards (SCS)-based courses under the Qualifications Framework (QF). Currently, 11 SCS-based courses of “Information and Communications Technology (ICT)” are on the list of CEF reimbursable courses, details of which are set out at Annex 1. No applications for reimbursement claims for these courses are received since their inclusion under CEF in 2012.
Although there is no standalone classification for ICT under the existing eight specified domains, we noted that a number of CEF courses contained content and elements of ICT. These courses are distributed amongst the eight specified domains in accordance with the course content offered and the nature of the industries involved. Examples include “Big Data Analytics and Data Mining”, “Information Security”, “Cloud Computing Applications and Management”, “Digital Marketing” “Mobile Applications Development”, etc., we however do not have statistics on such course contents and course providers.
(2) Since the establishment of CEF in mid-2002 until January 31, 2018, about 770 000 applicants have successfully opened CEF accounts. Among about 680 000 closed accounts, about 395 000 of them were closed (though they had not used up the subsidy of $10,000) due to the existing four-year validity period, maximum number of four claims or age limit of 65 being exceeded. The unused balance concerned amounted to $2.76 billion. The remaining 285 000 accounts had used up the subsidy of $10,000.
The annual figures of newly opened CEF accounts and CEF accounts categorised in accordance with the subsidy ceiling of $10,000 in the past five years (i.e. 2013-14 to 2017-18) are set out below:
(3) The annual figures of CEF reimbursement applications received by the Office of CEF, recipients of approved CEF reimbursement and the total amount disbursed in the past five years (i.e. 2013-14 to 2017-18) are set out below:
The annual figures of reimbursement applications not approved and the reasons in the past five years (i.e. 2013-14 to 2017-18) are set out below:
(4) The enhancement measures of CEF include the expansion of the scope of CEF courses to all eligible courses registered in the QR. The QR now covers 14 areas of study and training including “Computer Science and Information Technology”. As the number of courses registered in the QR grows, we expect that more different training courses will be incorporated under the scope of CEF subsidy in the future.
According to the information provided by the Education Bureau, as at end-February 2018, the QR covers about 700 qualifications/programmes on the profession of Computer Science and Information Technology offered by 67 operators/agencies. It is believed that these courses should be able to cover the information technology (IT) and digital skills as required by the market. The list of the relevant operators/agencies is set out at Annex 2. All qualifications/programmes listed in the QR have gone through quality assurance and are recognised under the QF. The detailed information on the qualifications/programmes has been uploaded onto the QR’s website (www.hkqr.gov.hk) for free access by the public. Upon the implementation of CEF enhancement measures, course providers may apply to register their eligible QR courses as CEF courses taking into account the course content and market demands.
(5) To ensure the prudent use of public money, CEF subsidies disbursed must be subject to appropriate regulations. When we started the CEF review earlier in considering how the scope of CEF courses should be expanded, the principle that the institutions providing courses should be situated in Hong Kong has been confirmed. This is to impose the necessary monitoring measures to assure the course quality and safeguard the learners’ interests. The enhancement measures of CEF currently proposed for implementation include the expansion of the scope of CEF courses to all eligible courses registered in the QR. Course providers and relevant courses to be registered in the QR must go through the quality assurance procedures conducted by the Hong Kong Council for Accreditation of Academic and Vocational Qualifications (HKCAAVQ) or universities with self-accrediting status. In this connection, online learning programmes provided by universities with self-accrediting status can already be registered in the QR. Besides, the HKCAAVQ will provide accreditation services for online learning programmes provided by institutions without self-accreditation status starting from April this year. Online learning programmes that have passed the accreditation will also be able to be registered in the QR. The HKCAAVQ will announce the details in due course.
(6) and (7) The Innovation and Technology Bureau (ITB) proactively encourages collaboration between the academia and the industry to nurture IT talents. Take information security skills as an example, the Hong Kong Productivity Council, the Hong Kong Computer Emergency Response Team Coordination Centre and the Government Computer Emergency Response Team have from time to time collaborated with trade organisations in organising thematic seminars and workshops, including certificate courses on information security, in order to facilitate IT practitioners to master knowledge and skills of information security. The Government will also continue to work with professional information security associations to promote professional accreditation and train up more information security practitioners. The Government will continue to explore appropriate measures to encourage individuals to pursue IT-related courses and join the relevant industries.
Moreover, the Accreditation Grant Scheme under the QF Fund provides partial or full accreditation grant for course providers of self-financing programmes, including course providers of CEF courses.
(8) ITB has been assessing the manpower supply and demand of the IT sector through the Report on the Manpower Survey of the Information Technology Sector, which is released regularly by the Innovation and Technology Training Board of the Vocational Training Council. The Administration will make reference to relevant statistics and continue to maintain close liaison with the industry to explore feasible measures to continuously enhance the overall human resources and professional standards of the IT industry in Hong Kong. The Government also conducts manpower projection exercises from time to time, such as compiling the Report on Manpower Projection regularly, to assess the trend of manpower demand and supply of Hong Kong in medium term, as well as the manpower requirement of various sectors (including IT).
Note 1: Except programmes funded by University Grants Committee and provided by Employees Retraining Board.
Note 2: Reasons for accounts closed include the existing four-year validity period, maximum number of four claims or age limit of 65 being exceeded.
Note 3: “Successful completion” of the course means that the learner must have attended no less than 70 per cent of the contactable hours of the course or such higher attendance requirement as prescribed for the course (whichever is higher) and attained the overall mark of either 50 per cent or such higher percentage of assessment(s) as prescribed for the course (whichever is higher) as assessed by whichever method approved by the Secretary for Labour and Welfare (including any examination and assignment requirements with approved weighting).
Note 4: Learners studying language courses (except written Chinese and Sign Language) are required to pass a specified benchmark test at the specified (or higher) level after the course commences and before the expiry of the four-year validity period.
Note 5: Other reasons of not approving reimbursement applications include claimants failing to submit reimbursement claim application within the validity period of the account, claimants started pursuing the course before submission of application for opening a CEF account, claimants failing to provide all necessary documents, and claimants obtaining other public funds for the same course, etc.