Generation 40s – 四十世代

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Why diversity is under threat in Hong Kong’s post-secondary education sector

CommentInsight & Opinion

Ho Lok Sang says with more establishments offering degree courses at the expense of vocational training, the coming decline in student numbers may kill off private tertiary institutions unable to vie with government-funded ones

The rapid expansion in Hong Kong of degree placements by self-financing institutions and self-financing arms of subsidised institutions has led to notable “achievements”, according to the government. One document says: “There are now about 150 and 300 self-financing post-secondary programmes at undergraduate level and sub-degree level … vis-à-vis around 40 and 230 such programmes respectively in 2005-06”.

But there is an excessive orientation towards academic degrees and inadequate attention placed on vocational development. Even the Vocational Training Council (VTC) is increasing its emphasis on degree programmes.

A healthy tertiary education sector should offer diversity, innovative pedagogy, plus strong links to industry and other sectors of society. The council is a massive organisation, and by offering degree programmes, it threatens the existence of courses run by private institutions without government funding.

If diversity is to prevail, we need a policy to ensure a level playing field. VTC-run degree programmes enjoy an unfair advantage, and government-funded institutions enjoy an unfair advantage due to branding and far superior infrastructure like libraries and IT facilities. If they run certain programmes, it would make sense to focus on niche areas that don’t overlap with those run by private institutions. If they run similar programmes, there should be quotas.

The winner-takes-all problem will become more acute in the next few years, as the number of secondary education graduates dwindles, leaving too few candidates to sustain all the current suppliers.

One may say: why not let competition eliminate those that cannot compete? This is based on the assumptions that the competition is fair and having far fewer players is desirable. Both are misplaced.

Both the VTC and University Grants Committee-funded universities are government funded to perform designated functions, but have ventured into areas beyond their original missions and enjoy significant advantages. The competition for survival could eliminate worthy players offering unique programmes. They could fail not because their programmes are not good enough, but because of the psychology to opt for stronger market players.

Even if eliminating some players is necessary, without a policy mitigating the winner-takes-all tendency, there will be too few players. We would lose the diversity driving innovation and offering students more choice in terms of programme design, pedagogy, location of classes, institutional culture and connectivity.

Ho Lok Sang is dean of business at Chu Hai College of Higher Education


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Hong Kong’s education system should teach children how to be diplomats

CommentInsight & Opinion


Kelly Yang says soft skills such as empathy and tact are essential for children’s post-automation employment, as well as for teaching them how they (and their countries) should work together

I recently had to speak on the state of Hong Kong education to a group of Year 13s. I was dreading it, because, where do I start? I’ve been teaching in Hong Kong for the past 12 years – and the one thing every student needs is more empathy.

In an increasingly hostile world, it is the most important skill we can give kids. Empathy is the ability to look at something from another person’s perspective before opening one’s mouth (or Gmail) and ranting. It’s the ability to deal with people in a sensitive way, and it’s lacking the world over, especially in Hong Kong.

At its heart, diplomacy is about listening before reacting and knowing how to control your impulses. A lot of people equate anger with power (just look at the US election). In debating, we often talk about delivering powerful rebuttals. But real life is rarely about slamming the opponent. It’s about compromise, teamwork and the ability to get along with others.

People come in many shapes, sizes, colours and from all walks of life, which is why, for schools to teach empathy well, they need diversity. Diversity is the foundation of diplomacy, because if you never interact with people different from you, how will you know how to interact with them tactfully?

My greatest worry for Hong Kong schools is that they can’t teach diplomacy because, fundamentally, they are not diverse. This is a problem with international and local schools alike.

There are few opportunities for the two circles to mix, which is a tragedy. Not only does it make education boring, it fails to produce future leaders. The world is fraught with conflict. There’s less demand and opportunity for people who can sit at a desk all day and do paperwork. They are being replaced by machines.

Jobs of the future will involve soft skills, such as creative arts and communications, specifically the ability to resolve problems sensitively, productively and tactfully.

Quite frankly, future peace depends on whether our children acquire this skill. For that, a few things need to change. International schools need to have more financial aid programmes to let in kids from different walks of life; local schools need to switch from Cantonese to English as the main language of instruction so non-Chinese and non-Cantonese have access; children need to attend clubs, activities and programmes that bring them together from different schools. And all schools need to invest more in teaching emotional intelligence, like empathy, resilience, grit and diplomacy.

If we want Hong Kong to remain a global city, we need to reframe how we see education.

Kelly Yang is the founder of the Kelly Yang Project, an after-school centre for writing and debating. Her latest children’s novel, Front Desk, is due out next May.


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Beijing’s cruel eviction of its migrant workers is a stain on China’s urbanisation drive

CommentInsight & Opinion

Audrey Jiajia Li says the rural masses who go to the cities in search of a better life do not deserve to be treated as disposable labour, particularly given their contribution to China’s development


The popular Chinese comedian Guo Degang tells this joke: a millionaire once claimed that while he couldn’t care for all the poor in the world, he would never turn a blind eye to people suffering from poverty in his neighbourhood. Later, he evicted them all from his neighbourhood and, sure enough, there have been no poor people there ever since.

In her 2012 science fiction story Folding Beijing, Chinese writer Hao Jingfang imagined a future Beijing divided into three spaces, where residents of different social classes share the same area in a 48-hour cycle: at the top, the ruling class of 5 million people occupy the space for 24 hours, after which the Earth’s surface would turn, moving residents of the second, then the third class up, and those 25 million middle-class people and 50 million low-class people would have the city for 16 and 8 hours respectively.

It’s hard for those of us who are comedy and science fiction lovers to believe that these stories would one day come close to reality.

Recently in Beijing, a fire broke out in a building crammed full of migrant workers, killing 19. The municipal authorities soon ordered citywide safety checks, in the process of which apartments identified as not meeting certain standards were targeted for immediate demolition. Tenants were given just a few days’ – in some cases, just hours’ – notice to pack up and vacate their home, or their water and electricity would be cut off. Many were chased away in the freezing Beijing winter.

A new expression – “low-end population” – went viral on social media. It was initially thought to be some kind of satire made up by internet users. That was before some seemingly official documents calling for action to “avoid the massive influx of the low-end population” and demanding “tight control of the low-end population” were revealed.

After four decades of development, China is well along the path of urbanisation. In 1978, at the beginning of Deng Xiaoping’s economic reforms, the number of urban residents accounted for only 16 per cent of the nation’s total population. In 2012, for the first time in history, people living in Chinese cities outnumbered those in the countryside, with the urbanisation ratio surpassing 50 per cent. This grew to 57.3 per cent in 2016.

The number of urban dwellers has grown from 170 million to 793 million over the past 40 years.

Urbanisation remains the most durable engine driving the economy, providing the biggest potential for the country to expand its domestic consumption. It boosts demand, from concrete and steel to daily goods such as food, household items and automobiles, and has led to a surge in public services and infrastructure projects.

Rural residents leave for the cities to seek a better life, given the widening income gap between the cities and the countryside. Income inequality is high in China. For over a decade, the Gini coefficient that measures such inequality has remained at a high 0.46, despite the rapid economic growth and the rise of average living standards.

Thanks to the country’s hukou residential permit system, those born in the rural areas are disadvantaged when compared with those born in cities. When a farmer’s yearly income can’t buy him a fancy iPhone, while Wang Sicong, the son of China’s richest man, could buy eight iPhone7s for his dog, going to the urban areas appears to be the best option.

Most of the country’s second-generation migrant workers were born in the 1980s and 1990s. Without farming experience and eager to be part of the city, they strive not only to make a living, but also to be accepted by the society they live in. They want a fairer, more decent and more respectful lifestyle than that of their countryside parents.

At the same time, migrant workers have contributed significantly to cities’ development, especially in the past 10 years as the e-commerce industry flourished. The on-demand service industry, like food delivery, ride-hailing and online shopping, hire a sizeable number of migrant workers because they are hardworking and poorly compensated. Sadly, as a workforce, they are not only treated as cheap but are apparently also disposable.

This is not the first time the capital city has driven away migrant workers and “low end” small businesses in the name of eliminating safety hazards. There have been waves of such evictions. In the 1990s, the target was the Wenzhou vendors and small business owners; around 2010, it was the “ant tribes” – low-income young workers sharing tiny living spaces in dark and humid basements.

It is winter time in the northern hemisphere. While life for those at the bottom is harsh all over the world, their treatment at this time of year varies. In the UK, survivors of a recent deadly blaze in London were rehoused, regardless of whether they were locals. In France, from November to March each year, landlords are prohibited from evicting tenants and the government must compensate them for any possible losses. In North America, there are shelters to help the homeless cope with the severe weather.

A couple leave with their belongings after they were required to move out due to a citywide crackdown on unsafe buildings, in Xinjiancun, Daxing district, in Beijing, on November 25. We can only hope that such tactics will not be used in Beijing’s implementation of an earlier plan to cut 15 per cent of the downtown population in two years. Photo: Reuters

We can only hope that Beijing’s action last week was not an indication of the tactics authorities will employ to implement an earlier plan to cut 15 per cent of the downtown population in two years, which would amount to a reduction of about two million people.

As a society urbanises, its “hardware” and “software” should both improve. Manual workers should be respected and cherished, not repaid with arrogance, discrimination and humiliation. The cruellest urbanisation is one coloured by social Darwinism: driving people out when, in the eyes of policymakers, they are no longer needed and have become a burden.

Audrey Jiajia Li is the 2017 Elizabeth Neuffer fellow with the International Women’s Media Foundation. She is currently in residence at the MIT Centre for International Studies