Three things Hong Kong must do to build a strong tech industry

February 23, 2016 16:08
The high failure rate of tech startups and career uncertainties are among the hurdles local tertiary institutions face in attracting top young minds to the field. Photo:

Low-end industries will be phased out eventually, so advanced technology is China’s future.

If Hong Kong wants to ride the wave and build up its technological strength, it must make good use of the opportunities offered by China, said Wong Ching-ping, dean of engineering at the Chinese University of Hong Kong.

China is a huge market and can provide ample resources, such as land, talent and labor, Wong told Hong Kong Commercial Daily.

Hong Kong companies should take advantage of these by strengthening ties with organizations such as mainland science parks.

China is keen on developing its proprietary technologies, because if the country continues to rely too much on overseas suppliers, once counterparties suspend such exports for some reason, it could be very disruptive to a wide range of mainland industries.

“President Xi Jinping puts a lot of emphasis on science and innovation,” Wong said.

For instance, China has been developing its own electronics materials know-how in recent years to reduce its dependence on Europe, the United States and Japan.

Wong suggests that local engineers not only look into opportunities in China but also in the international marketplace.

“If we restrict ourselves to Hong Kong, the room is limited," he said.

"We should think global.”

An owner of 65 patents, Wong urged the Hong Kong government to step up its input into the tech sector and think long term.

Hong Kong is lagging behind our Asian rivals in spending on research and development, he said.

“Technology R&D has been neglected for too long,” said Wong.

Government spending on R&D in Hong Kong is only 0.73 percent of gross domestic product, in contrast to about 4 percent in South Korea, 3 percent in Taiwan and 2 percent in Singapore.

Not only do we have to catch up, the government needs to take a long-term view, because crucial tech research does not always yield results in one or two years, Wong said.

The third thing Hong Kong needs to work on is attracting more students to study technology.

The research capabilities of Hong Kong have reached a high standard, probably among the best in the region.

The city’s universities also boast a group of excellent scholars from all over the world, but to turn tech into a mainstream field, we have to convince students of the career prospects, Wong said.

Tech is so far not a popular subject with students.

“Ninety percent of the master's students in CUHK’s engineering department are from China," Wong said.

"Very few local students choose to pursue a research career after graduation.”

It’s common knowledge that top local students typically pick medical school or business school for a better and more predictable financial future.

Wong is hoping universities’ startup support programs and R&D project subsidies will lure more bright young minds to the field.

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EJ Insight writer