Hong Kong as a Knowledge-based Economy

This is related to my earlier post on knowledge cities, see here. The Hong Kong Census & Statistics Bureau has published this paper on Hong Kong as a Knowledge-based Economy which you can download here Hong Kong as a Knowledge Based Economy | Aug 2009 and a short description of the same here Hong Kong as a Knowledge Based Economy – Short Description | Aug 2009. You can go to their website and download the complete statistics from here.

The bureau measures in these four areas: ICT (information and communication technologies), human resources development, innovation systems and business environment. ICT in Hong Kong shows high usage of mobile phones, personal computers at home and in the workplace, internet access thru broadband and work-related websites. This makes sense considering Hong Kong is only half-a-step away from gadget-crazed Japan. Human resources development basically means education. Hong Kong spends large amounts on education and it has increased dramatically over the past 10 years. This is true. However, most of the increase in in tertiary education and support for R&D at the university levels. Primary and secondary classes hover around 40 students per class and the government is closing primary and secondary schools and laying of teachers in order to keep the student/teacher ratio high. This is flies in the face of any rational plan to support a knowledge-based economy. Innovation systems are difficult for me to understand but it seems that they are measuring 3 kinds of ‘innovation activity’, technological innovation, which includes R&D and non-technologial innovation, things like business processes, strategy, marketing and organization. Hong Kong has many more researchers from 10 years ago but pure R&D expenditure has only gone up slightly. Overall, ‘innovation activity’ has grown sharply. The assumption is made that increase in technology spurs forward innovation and that better business-results are the result of innovation. I’m more inclined to believe that other more pressing pressures spur on innovation. I still remember Max Boiset’s statement that ‘innovation springs from chaos’. The business environment in Hong Kong is flexible, fair up to a point, business formation is one of the easiest anywhere in the world. However, the business models in Hong Kong that is most successful is monopoly or oligopoly, seen most spectacularly in the city’s property sector – basically only 4 major players and the collusion with the HK government to maintain prices is astonishing.

I do agree that on balance Hong Kong is a knowledge-based economy. The perception among most of my KM classmates doesn’t seem so positive. At a end-of-term class gathering at the HK Science & Technology Park we were doing a knowledge cafe on the theme of ‘how would we spend $10 million to improve HK’ and the conversation got on to jobs, education, entrepreneurs and the use of knowledge and the consensus was that Hong Kong was very poor at using its people’s knowledge. People cannot find ‘good’ jobs because there was some mismatch between what they ‘did’ and what was considered a ‘success’. Perceptions of success in Hong Kong are based on money (our theme is a good indication of this) and success is defined in a very narrow and traditional way; professions like medicine, lawyers, accountancy are prized most and then followed by engineers and technicians and the bottom is made-up of teachers, salesman, designers and any sort of support service like retail, food, customer support and construction. No-one in Hong Kong is ever going to admit that there is a massive amount of know-how and expertise in the food industry or retail expertise in business is as valuable as preparing a balance sheet. This attitude means that students are only pushed into a narrow range of occupations and those that resist are labeled failures. This is most unfortunate because what Hong Kong should emphasize is exactly the areas it ignores; there is no world-class culinary institute in Hong Kong, design schools are poorly funded and made to be part of other institutions and the study of successful retailing is simply not on the map in a business education for a HK student.

What could make it better? We didn’t have time to continue the discussion but for me just opening up to the thought that success is more than a white-collar job would be good step for Hong Kong.

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