Vocational education is directed by the Vocational Training Council (VTC) and provided primarily through its 13 member institutions. The Council is made up of 18 non-government members, including leading figures in education, industry and the service sector, as well as three government officials: the Commissioner for Labour, the Director-General of Trade and Industry and the Deputy Secretary for Education. This way the government can ensure policy decisions based on the actual workforce needs in each of these sectors.
While some VTC insitutions provided secondary-level VET as early as the 1980s, the VTC Youth College – which awards the Diploma in Vocational Education, the most common secondary-level VET qualification – was not established until 2004. In addition, two major reforms restructured the system in 2008. Free education in Hong Kong was extended from nine to 12 years, eliminating tuition for upper secondary-level VET programs, and a Qualifications Framework was established, defining clear standards for vocational qualifications and connecting learning to industry needs. While these reforms expanded access to and improved the quality of VET, Hong Kong’s VET system remains under development, with fewer than 10 percent of upper secondary students enrolling in VET.
All general secondary school students gain career exposure as part of Life-Wide Learning experiences, which are hands-on or career-related activities such as workplace visits. Students can also take specific workplace-oriented Applied Learning courses offered as electives in six different areas: Creative Studies; Media and Communication; Business, Management, and Law; Services; Applied Science; and Engineering and Production. Applied Learning courses are intended for all students, including the most academically-inclined students. They are elective subjects that can be assessed on the HKDSE examination.
In 2008, the government began providing funding for full-time vocational courses for students between the ages of 15 and 18. This means students leave the general secondary school to enroll in these programs. The most common course leads to a Diploma in Vocational Education (DVE), which is a three- to four-year program. DVE programs are available in seventeen specific subjects, like Business Event Operations, that are organized into three broad areas: Business and Services; Engineering; and Design and Information Technology. Students can work toward the DVE after completing the first three years of secondary school. Some students transfer to the DVE course after more years of secondary school and are able to earn it in a shorter time. After earning a DVE, a student can enter the workplace directly or continue in training for two years to earn a Higher Diploma, which serves as an entrance qualification for vocational or university bachelor’s degree programs in technical fields. Higher Diploma graduates can complete bachelor’s degrees in one to three additional years. There are also lower-level certificates and diplomas that students who have completed lower secondary school can earn in one to two years, but these do not lead to a Higher Diploma or degree. Beginning in 2018, a pilot program will allow students who have completed lower secondary school to work toward a three-year Diploma of Vocational Baccalaureate. This qualification allows students an accelerated path to a degree program.
The government also introduced the Qualifications Framework in 2008, which was intended to enhance the competitiveness of the workforce in Hong Kong. The framework outlines seven levels of qualifications in academic, vocational and continuing education sectors. Programs that comply with the Qualifications Framework are guaranteed by the government to have provided students with specific competencies and skills. This framework applies to students in schools as well as adults in the workforce.
Only about 7 percent of secondary students in Hong Kong are enrolled in vocational education programs. The Task Force on Promotion of Vocational Education was created in 2014 to make recommendations on expanding enrollment in this sector.
In a 2015 report, the Task Force developed a strategy based on three goals: rebranding VET as vocational and professional education and training (VPET), with an emphasis on rigorous curriculum and degree-level courses; generating positive publicity around VPET through efforts such as upgrading campus facilities and creating an online information portal; and continuing to promote VPET over time by providing government support, encouraging employers to make use of the Qualifications Framework and conducting surveys to assess changes in public perceptions of VPET. As of 2017, Hong Kong has moved ahead on these goals. It has rebranded VET as VPET and is enhancing publicity efforts, fully subsidizing Applied Learning courses in secondary schools, and supporting the Pilot Training and Support Scheme, which combines full-time study toward a Diploma in Vocational Education with apprenticeships.
Other initiatives include new funding for Career and Life Planning services, with annual per school grants of approximately HK$500,000 (US$64,000) as of 2014. A work experience program was added to the existing Business-School Partnership Program (BSPP) in 2016-17. The BSPP promotes collaboration among businesses, community organizations and schools to provide students with career exploration opportunities such as workplace visits, mentoring, career talks and career expos. The new program adds work experience programs for secondary school students as part of this program.
Finally, Hong Kong continues to invest in the development and implementation of the Qualifications Framework, which creates connections and comparability across academic, vocational and continuing education pathways. Plans are in place to benchmark Qualifications Frameworks with New Zealand, Scotland and Ireland.