Generation 40s – 四十世代

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How higher education in Hong Kong reinforces social inequalities

CommentInsight & Opinion
2018-01-22

Paul Yip and Chenhong Peng say the sub-degree programmes that tend to attract youth from less-privileged backgrounds cost more to attend yet offer less wage potential than a full degree. It’s time for officials to do more to help those who fail to earn a government-funded university place

The higher education sector in Hong Kong has experienced substantial expansion in the past 30 years. In the early years of the colony, university education was aimed primarily at the Chinese elite who could take up a public service role after graduation. In 1965, just 2.2 per cent of the university-age cohort were enrolled in a degree programme.

It was not until the late 1980s that the government decided to expand the higher education sector. The first wave of reform came about by raising the number of publicly funded degree places.

The Hong Kong University of Science and Technology was established in 1991. And, in 1994, three institutions – Hong Kong Polytechnic, City Polytechnic and Baptist College – were granted university status. As a result, the participation rate of students in publicly funded first-year, first-degree programmes grew from 8.8 per cent in 1989 to 18.1 per cent in 1996.

Then came the second wave of reform in 2001, in which private education providers were encouraged to offer self-financed sub-degree programmes. Including these associate degree programmes, the tertiary education participation rate nearly doubled, from 33 per cent in 2000 to 64 per cent in 2006.

On the whole, this expansion has raised the education level of Hong Kong society. But how has the huge increase in the supply of tertiary graduates affected wages? And how have the returns to tertiary education in Hong Kong – both at the degree and sub-degree levels – changed over the past 20 years?

To find out, we analysed data from the 1996, 2006 and 2016 population census reports, based on male workers aged 24 to 35. In 1996, holders of sub-degree certificates earned 40 per cent more than their secondary-school-educated counterparts. However, the earning difference slumped to 13 per cent in both 2006 and 2016. The decreased returns to a sub-degree tertiary education partially support the argument of credential inflation.

A sub-degree certificate also appears to confer little advantage in the labour market compared to a secondary-school certificate. This echoes the findings of the Education Bureau’s most recent survey of employer opinion on degree and sub-degree holders who graduated in 2013.

According to the survey report, employers gave sub-degree graduates a performance rating of 3.35 out of 5 on average. Among the nine major aspects of performance, they performed poorest in management skills (3.13 out of 5) and proficiency in English (3.15). Moreover, there was significant discrepancy between employers’ expectations and graduates’ performance in analytical and problem-solving skills, work attitude and interpersonal skill.

Degree holders fared marginally better than their sub-degree counterparts in terms of wage returns. In 1996, degree holders earned 70 per cent more than their secondary-school-educated counterparts. The earning difference fell to 42 per cent in 2006 and further dropped to 37 per cent in 2016.

In the employers’ survey, about 75 per cent of employers said they were satisfied with the performance of the degree holders they hired.

The transition from elite higher education to mass higher education in Hong Kong has primarily been achieved through the expansion of self-financed sub-degree programmes. The intake of full-time sub-degree students skyrocketed from 2,600 in 2000/2001 to 19,800 in 2014/2015.

A recent study found that in 2013, 30 per cent of the young people enrolling in a sub-degree programme came from families living below the poverty line. As sub-degree programmes are mainly self-financed and the annual tuition fee can be as high as HK$40,000 to HK$50,000, these young people would probably have to take out a loan to pay for their education. Despite such hefty investment, however, the returns are low.

By contrast, the increase in the publicly funded degree programmes has been rather stable. The student intake increased from 14,200 in 2000/2001 to 17,500 in 2014/2015. Almost half (48.2 per cent) of the young people enrolled came from the wealthiest 10 per cent of families, and only 7 per cent came from families living below the poverty line.

In summary, our analysis suggests that the higher education system, to some extent, exacerbates the level of inequality in Hong Kong. Students from rich families are more likely to enrol in publicly funded degree programmes and enjoy the higher returns they generate while students from poor families are more likely to enrol in a self-financed sub-degree programme, which only generates low returns.

It is the time for government to take a hard look at its higher education policy. It should try to improve the quality of self-financed sub-degree programmes, which would help to raise wage potential in the labour market.

Furthermore, some form of subsidy or compensation is necessary to enable children from disadvantaged families to enjoy greater access to publicly funded degree programmes.

In view of the substantial financial surplus this year, we should provide education and training for those who did not make the cut to a government-funded degree programme. Flexible financial support should be provided to the young people who want to improve their skills and education.

The window of opportunity for skills enhancement closes fast, especially for those aged 15 to 24. If they aren’t helped to improve themselves, they will find it hard to enjoy upward mobility. At the end of the day, Hong Kong will lose its edge if its young people don’t advance themselves.

Paul Yip is a chair professor (population health) and an associate dean (research) in the Faculty of Social Sciences at the University of Hong Kong. Chenhong Peng is a PhD student in HKU’s Department of Social Work and Social Administration

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

CommentInsight & Opinion
2017-12-08

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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馬臨記憶

明報
筆陣
2017-10-25
文:蔡子強

上周一,中大前校長馬臨逝世,享年93歲。

馬臨校長很有威嚴

我曾經在1986年及1987年分別當過中大學生會副會長和會長,剛巧這也是馬校長任期最後兩年,所以我也有機會與他親身交往過。

我記得,馬臨是一位很有威嚴的校長,且相當「家長」。但其實,當年的大學教授大多數都是如此「家長」,畢竟當時的社會氣氛與今天十分不同。

為何師父教徒弟要教上10年?

我最記得每次到校長室見馬校長,在展開任何話題和討論前,他例必先訓誡我們10多分鐘,說要尊師重道。我還記得,他總是說:「以前師父教徒弟,一教隨時要教上10年,但其實真功夫可能不用兩三年便可教曉,那麼為何要教那麼長呢?其實,頭幾年師父都只不過是觀察徒弟是否孺子可教。所以做學生切記要懂得尊師重道,否則吃虧只會是自己,學不到老師的真正學問。」

這段話他實在向我說過太多次,所以時至今天我仍然清楚記得。

只有交代了這種背景和心態,大家才會明白到,當我們那兩屆學生會提出在改革校政上,要求校方引入教學評核時,校方不少人士為何會認為我們不懂尊師重道。他們想:你們這班學生憑什麼可以去評核老師的教學?他們甚至有人認為,這無疑是對老師「紅衛兵」式的批鬥,因而勃然大怒。

提出教學評核被怪責不尊師重道

我們也不敢直言當時有部分老師實在教得有幾差,完全不備課,上堂天馬行空、東拉西扯,生怕實在太過頂撞校方,不歡而散,唯有耐心多講民主理念。

為了盡量減低校方和老師們的敵意,我們學生會也嘗試做了一些較正面的事情來表達善意,及為教學評核作出平衡,於是我們破天荒搞了第一屆最佳教學獎選舉,表揚教書教得好的老師,由每個學系每名同學一人一票選出他們認為該系教學最佳的老師,之後再出版特刊,由得獎老師分享教學經驗。這樣用心良苦,為的是要避免被人認為學生會只識得「有破壞無建設」,以及讓大家看到,同學表達對老師教學的意見,哪怕是一人一票選舉,其實也不是什麼洪水猛獸。

風物長宜放眼量

我還記得當年政政系(政治與行政學系)的鄭宇碩教授、新聞系的李少南教授、哲學系的關子尹教授等,都在我們舉辦的選舉中得獎。

30年過去了,當日由學生提出、曾經被校方不少人嗤之以鼻的東西,例如教學評核和最佳教學獎等,今已經成為大學體制中不可或缺的環節。如今老師教的每一科,到學期尾都要由學生填寫問卷作教學評核,並會作為老師升職、續約等的參考;大學的學院、書院亦每年會辦最佳教學獎選舉。

所以評價學生所做的事,往往不要只爭朝夕。還是那一句——風物長宜放眼量。

今天,與同事聊天,不時會聽到吐苦水,說教學評核讓大家不敢對學生太過harsh,怕被學生「e死」(即teaching evaluation時給予很低的分數),於是便有grade inflation(老師派grades時「手鬆」)、為學生提供詳盡的lecture notes(副作用是讓學生考試讀notes就夠而不會主動多看書)、不敢訓斥學生的不是,甚至有把學生當作是clients,以「顧客至上」的心態去看待。

但世事往往就是如此,針無兩頭利。如果以過來人而論,我會說,今天大學普遍教學質素,一定比起30年前好得多,不備課、上堂東拉西扯的老師基本上已經絕迹。

高錕和馬臨作風截然不同

說回中大校長。馬臨之後是高錕,兩者的性格與作風截然不同。高錕是一個很隨和的校長,他與我們學生會見面時,甚至流露出有點靦腆,完全沒有馬臨那一份威嚴。這裏且舉兩件事作比較,就可看到兩者間的分別。

話說1980年代初中大發生醫學院事件。有一次教務會討論有關課題,會場外,學生在百萬大道烽火台舉行集會,並要求校方對話。當教務會會議結束後,馬臨匆匆離開,並不肯留低對話,惹來學生不滿,結果擾攘一番,甚至發生包圍校長座駕之後,讓他不得不公開回應幾句。不料他卻說,他已經十分肚餓,要去吃飯了,讓學生瞠目結舌。結果在學生一片鼓譟聲下離開。後來學生於晚上再操上校長官邸外抗議,繼續要求對話,但最後仍然不得要領。

另一件事,是在中英雙方就彭定康政改方案而鬧得不可開交時,高錕接受了北京委任,當了港事顧問,被學生聲討,怪責他被統戰和收編。但他卻仍然願意踏入龍潭虎穴,出席由學生所舉辦設在百萬大道烽火台的千人論壇,交代和討論這件事。但不擅辭令的他,最後當然落得尷尬收場。

只可惜,當時高錕的這份胸襟和苦心,卻未為學生所體諒和欣賞。另一方面,又遭校方很多高層人士埋怨他在一系列包括中大開放日等事件中,實在太過遷就學生,太過軟弱。結果落得兩邊不討好,最後讓他鬱鬱離開中大。


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Hong Kong’s young democracy campaigners risk losing sight of the real changes needed in society

2017-10-06
Anson Au says democracy is just another form of government, far from perfect and equally prone to ideological excess. Instead of chasing universal suffrage, Hong Kong needs to negotiate the best way forward to create a better society

The past couple of weeks have seen a resurgence in the push for democracy among youth in Hong Kong. Zealous cries for a new order have filled the air once more, in the wake of the anniversary on September 28 of Occupy Central, which ignited massive dissent among thousands of youth bound to the vision of democracy.

And just two weeks ago, former governor Chris Patten concluded his four-day visit by rallying Hongkongers to the pursuit of democracy and urging Beijing to consent.

Joined by a host of global media outlets, these sentiments betray a belief in the inherent good of ­democracy – but overlook the purpose of governance itself.

We must stay grounded. ­Democracy, as with all forms of governance, is but a means to an end – which is the establishment of a good society. My research explores what constitutes a good society and what can destroy it, and it shows that the answers don’t lie in any one form of governance.

We must separate ideology from practicality in the context of governance for a good society. As history tells us, it’s when we fail to do so that a society moves to atrocious ­extremes.

First, democracy is not without its dark side. Whereas popular belief holds that it’s inherently good, political research uncovers the ­uncomfortable truth that this isn’t the case. Democracy is not built upon the premise of bringing about “the most good for the majority”. Rather, it’s structured upon “the most good decided by the majority”.

Both modern history and the ­recent past have witnessed atrocities willed into being by the majority of a given society. Minorities in a populace often belong to economically impoverished and politically marginalised categories. As such, they possess significantly less ability to resist convenient and swift suppression by a hostile, intolerant majority. In Yugoslavia, they were the Bosnian Muslims and Croats, popularly hated minorities unable to resist violence by Serb militants.

In the days leading up to the establishment of Nazi Germany, they were the already stigmatised Jews, homosexuals, elderly and disabled – powerless to resist oppression, arrest and cleansing by a regime that channelled, rather than moderated, ideological hatred among the majority.

In Rwanda, they were the Tutsi and moderate Hutu leaders, defenceless against the anti-Tutsi radicalism washing over the Hutu state. The result was the infamous Rwandan genocide, whose ghosts still haunt the nation and human rights committees the world over. When organised by the majority alone, the state becomes a voice for the majority alone – rather than moderate hateful sentiments harboured by the majority, it channels them.

Strongman ­tyrants can ascend to power in democracies by capitalising on ideological fervour and insecurities among the majority. We need not look very far into history: the broad, recent rise of the far right across Europe and America prove the contemporary relevance of this admonition.

Both Geert Wilders in the Netherlands and Marine Le Pen in France championed, to great success, Islamophobia and the rejection of refugees in appealing to lower- and middle-class xenophobia. They were only narrowly beaten by more moderate candidates.

In the UK, Brexit attracted popular support, despite the economic disasters that pundits confirmed it would bring. On the ill-informed, misleading platform that Britain could accrue more capital outside the European Union, Brexit succeeded in convincing a majority more invested in nationalism than practicality. And most recently, Donald Trump rose to the White House by targeting immigrants and trumpeting the purge of big money from governance. Manipulated for their insecurities with employment, a majority rallied behind his claims, despite his very apparent financial conflicts of interest.

Second, Hong Kong is seeing divisions between the young and old. Young adults have lashed out against older citizens for retreating from the push for democracy, ­accusing them of political apathy, or worse, treason against Hong Kong society. But difference should beget discussion, not exclusion.

The legacy of Occupy Central has been … distorted into ideological fervour among youth

Incendiary reactions to difference show how the legacy of Occupy Central has been an improved consciousness of democracy, but distorted into ideological fervour among youth not unlike that of the Red Guard and other cross-national cases in world history. The convergences evoke historical memories of very real dangers.

In China, the Red Guards turned over their families, peers, teachers and schools to state punishment. In Cambodia, French-trained cadres led by Pol Pot swept the country with party purges and fratricides for a modernised, agrarian society.

Both cases show what happens when a country’s young ideologues rally behind a mode of governance for its own sake. Families are divided; the younger and older generations are split; unrest and violence ensue. Institutions embodying tradition are destroyed, and evidence-based assessments of what’s good for society are abandoned. Uprooting a plant always pulls up with it soil, grass, and living creatures. What does a heavy-handed democratic revolution threaten to uproot – policies, relations, institutions – along with the existing mode of governance? What will fill the gaping hole left in the earth afterwards? Who will benefit?

What does a heavy-handed democratic revolution threaten to uproot along with the existing mode of governance?

Third, stop focusing on democracy. Democracy, as with any governance, is only a means to an end. Thinking otherwise gives rise to ideological sentiments with disastrous consequences, as historical precedents have shown.

Furthermore, it distracts us from discussing the changes, the actual fruits of governance, that we want to see. Affordable housing; more ­resources for health services; a better old-age living allowance.

The calls for universal suffrage fail to address how any such issues or policies would be improved.

Real, positive change can only happen in Hong Kong by negotiating at the table, not by overturning it and attempting to build a new one; by engaging with actual policies and relations, instead of an abstract “fight”; by discussing the real, concrete needs of Hong Kong citizens, more than ideals written by a few on paper. We must forego visions of governance motivated by ideology to see the ends, rather than the means, in order to build a better society and prevent disaster.

I do not blame ethnic majorities for extreme crises. Ethnic majorities do not create extreme crises, but they can empower the ones who do: ranging from the endorsement of right-wing fascism to platforms that literally fracture nations.

Democracy claims to benefit all of society, but so does virtually every other mode of governance – what matters is how it is brought to effect.

A system lives for the people – not the other way around. We must refocus on the practical consequences of governance itself.

As Nelson Mandela – at a widely televised New York town hall in 1990 with American news anchor Ted Koppel – said in response to a question about the type of economy he envisioned for South Africa: “We are not concerned with models. We are not concerned with labels. We are practical men and women whose solutions are dictated by the actual conditions existing in our country. It does not matter whether the cat is black or white – so long as it can catch mice.”

Anson Au is a visiting researcher in the Department of Sociology at the Hong Kong Baptist University and a research officer at the LSE Health and Social Care and Department of Social Policy (joint) at the London School of Economics and Political Science.


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Why can’t Chinese graduates speak good English? Blame the teaching methods

South China Morning Post
CommentInsight & Opinion
2017-09-08


Philip Yeung

Philip Yeung says English-language proficiency will only improve when teachers look past rote memorisation and encourage students to learn how to learn

The Chinese have a love-hate relationship with English. It is the “language of opportunity” – the passport to a coveted overseas education, a well-paid job or foreign citizenship. Zhang Lu, the photogenic English-speaking interpreter for top leaders, is mobbed everywhere she goes, while state interpreters of other languages remain obscure.

But despite its prestige, English is taught unimaginatively on the mainland. Students there say the only significant learning occurs in the first three years of junior secondary, the final three years of high school having been hijacked by endless drills for college entrance exams.

English is mandatory in the first two years in a Chinese university. But the language is taught bookishly, short on functional skills. College graduation calls for CET (College English Test) level 4 or 6 standards. But employers complain that few graduates are prepared even for the simple tasks of writing or responding to an English email or answering business phone calls, much less conducting trade negotiations with foreign clients. There is talk of dropping English from the required curriculum in some jurisdictions.

What has gone wrong? First, there is a singular lack of method. The basic approach is backward – memorising individual vocabulary words and incomprehensible grammar rules. Any effective approach must address two questions: first, how is it that you can understand every word in an English sentence and yet fail to understand its overall meaning? Second, after attaining basic proficiency, why is further progress in English elusive, however hard you study? This is true of many Chinese scholars who return home after decades in the US.

As long as English teaching is hitched to rote learning, Chinese students are denied the chance to “learn how to learn,” or sensitivity training in “pattern recognition”, especially necessary in developing writing skills. It has been said that native speakers, unlike non-natives, learn by “subconscious” acquisition, but I know that students can be taught “subconscious” learning once they acquire pattern recognition.

Each year, nearly half a million Chinese students go abroad. China may be the world’s second-largest economy, but Indian nationals vastly outnumber the Chinese in leading Fortune 500 companies or American universities. China lacks the soft power of English communication. This challenge should not be left to cram schools or tutorial centres, as being exam-savvy doesn’t translate into functionality. English teaching must be reimagined to prepare our people for global citizenship and leadership.

Philip Yeung is a former speechwriter to the president of the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology.