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Following is a question by the Hon Abraham Shek and a written reply by the Secretary for Labour and Welfare, Mr Matthew Cheung Kin-chung, in the Legislative Council today (July 2):
The Government established the Continuing Education Fund (CEF) in 2002 to encourage the local labour force to equip themselves in coping with the globalised and knowledge-based economic development, and to create opportunities for young people to move up the social ladder. There are views that while continuing education will facilitate personal development to a certain extent, some members of the public have, for various reasons (e.g. high tuition fees) chosen not to pursue further studies. In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:
(1) of the number of applicants granted subsidies by CEF in the past five years, together with a breakdown by qualifications to be obtained by applicants upon completion of the reimbursable courses;
(2) of the respective numbers of applicants and cases granted subsidies since the establishment of CEF, together with a breakdown by age group (e.g. 18 to 30, 31 to 50 and 51 to 65 years of age) to which the applicant belonged and gender of the applicant; whether it has assessed the number of applicants whom CEF can subsidise with its current balance; if so, of the details;
(3) notwithstanding the Financial Secretary’s indication that CEF should not be considered as a standing measure in the long run, but that the economic environment has changed and is moving towards diversification, whether the authorities will consider injecting additional funds into CEF; if so, of the details; if not, the reasons for that;
(4) as it has been reported that the tuition fees for some courses run by self-financing post-secondary institutions increased by as high as 25% in the 2013-2014 academic year, but the ceiling of subsidies at $10,000 in total for each applicant has remained unchanged since the establishment of CEF, whether the authorities will raise the ceiling of subsidies, so as to alleviate the financial burden of the applicants; if so, of the details; if not, the reasons for that; whether there are measures in place to encourage private institutions to formulate policies of subsidising their employees to pursue further studies or participate in training programmes; if there are measures, of the details; if not, the reasons for that; and
(5) given that the consultation paper on population policy released by the Government in 2013 has pointed out that the construction industry, retail and catering industries, and care service sector, are facing labour shortage, how many courses currently on the list of reimbursable courses are associated with such industries, and how many people have been granted subsidies to enrol in such courses by CEF since its establishment; whether it has compiled statistics on the number of persons who changed jobs in the past three years to work in such industries within one year after completion of the relevant courses; whether it has plans to incorporate more courses associated with such industries into the list of reimbursable courses, so as to encourage more people to join such industries, thereby alleviating the labour shortage?
My reply to the questions raised by the Hon Abraham Shek is as follows:
(1) In the past five years (i.e. from June 2009 to May 2014), a total of 176 573 persons were granted subsidies under the Continuing Education Fund (CEF). A breakdown of the number of CEF recipients by academic qualifications to be obtained upon completion of the reimbursable CEF courses is provided at Annex.
(2) Since the establishment of CEF in 2002, a total of 521 523 reimbursement applications were approved, involving 438 914 CEF recipients (as at May 2014). The distribution of the number of CEF recipients by age group is set out in the table below:
|Number of CEF recipients||18-29||30-39||40-49||50-65||Total|
|228 825||125 742||64 842||19 505||438 914|
The Office of the Continuing Education Fund (OCEF) does not capture the gender of CEF recipients in the record.
In April 2002, the Government set up CEF with a funding of $5 billion. With a further injection of $1.2 billion in July 2009, the total funding provision for CEF increased to $6.2 billion. As at May 2014, the total commitments of CEF was about $4.6 billion, including about $3.6 billion disbursed to applicants who had successfully completed the courses and about $1 billion set aside for applicants who had opened CEF accounts. Assuming that each applicant will be granted a subsidy of $10,000, it is roughly estimated that CEF will further benefit about 160 000 residents who have not opened CEF accounts.
(3) As CEF has a current balance of about $1.6 billion, the Government has no plan to arrange any further injection at this stage, but will continue to monitor the operation and balance of CEF.
(4) Each CEF applicant may, on completion of a CEF course, apply for reimbursement of 80% of the course fee, subject to a maximum sum of $10,000. For the majority (about 70%) of CEF courses, the tuition fee of each course is at or below $10,000. The current level of subsidy is considered generally sufficient.
The Government will continue to promote CEF and encourage continuing education through various channels, such as CEF’s website and CEF course providers so that the general public will have a better understanding of CEF.
(5) The original scope of subsidy was extended in 2004, 2007, 2008 and 2009 respectively. At present, CEF courses cover those falling within eight specified domains and those having registered as Specification of Competency Standards (SCS)-based courses under the Qualification Register (QR). The training courses that fall within the eight specified domains (i.e. business services, financial services, logistics, tourism, creative industry, design, language (Note), and interpersonal and intrapersonal skills for the workplace) may be registered as CEF courses by application, subject to the assessment by the Hong Kong Council for Accreditation of Academic and Vocational Qualifications. Courses designed in accordance with SCSs drawn up by the respective Industry Training Advisory Committees under the Qualifications Framework and registered under QR may also be registered and covered by CEF. At present, 15 industries (including the Chinese catering and retail industries) have developed their respective SCSs. The industry consultation on the draft SCS for elderly care services has just been completed. The Government will continue to review the scope of CEF courses.
Currently, there are 11 courses related to Chinese catering on the list of CEF courses. As at May 2014, a total of 60 applicants having enrolled in those 11 courses had been granted subsidies under CEF. At present, no courses related to the construction industry, retail industry and care service sector are on the list of CEF courses.
OCEF does not collect information about CEF recipients’ employment status after completion of CEF courses. We do not have information on the number of CEF recipients who have changed jobs after completion of the relevant courses.
Note: Language courses in English, Chinese (written), Putonghua, French, German, Japanese, Spanish, Korean, Italian and Russian are eligible for registration under the CEF.