Generation 40s – 四十世代

Good articles for buddies

Leave a comment

How higher education in Hong Kong reinforces social inequalities

CommentInsight & Opinion

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


Leave a comment

Students benefiting from degree subsidy must remember their debt to Hong Kong society

South China Morning Post
Insight & Opinion

Kerry Kennedy says self-financed undergraduate students and their institutions who accept this largesse should also understand their obligation to give back to society after they graduate

Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor delivered on her election promise to support the education sector by providing self-financed undergraduate students with a HK$30,000 subsidy. Even the usually recalcitrant Legislative Council begrudgingly supported the initiative so that funds could flow in this financial year.

It was a quick and early victory for Hong Kong’s new leader and showed her seriousness both in supporting education and keeping promises. But is it money well spent, both for the recipients and for the government?

Students will not actually see the money – it will be deducted from their tuition fee, then the institution will be reimbursed. Also, it is not open to all students – only those who achieved a minimum standard of Level 3 in Chinese and English and Level 2 in maths and liberal studies, or those who already have an associate degree and are enrolled in undergraduate programmes.

Thus, those who have enrolled in an associate degree programme miss out, as do ethnic minority students who have not studied Chinese, and self-financed students in University Grants Committee-funded universities. Nevertheless, there is little doubt that both students and their families, as well as the eligible institutions, are grateful for the support. The subsidy may attract more students at a time of low enrolment in the private education sector.

Since it is an annual subsidy, the support will be appreciated although actual fees are hefty, often more than HK$300,000 over a four-year period. Students from families that are not well off can benefit from both the subsidy, which is not means-tested, and support from the Student Finance Office, which is means-tested.

Overall, from both a student and an institutional perspective, the subsidy may well make an important difference to the point of encouraging some students and their families who otherwise may not have a chance to move upward.

There has been some criticism that graduates of self-financed programmes may not get jobs at the end. There is little evidence for this point of view, and Hong Kong’s unemployment rate at 3.2 per cent and underemployment at 1.2 per cent suggest that there is not a great deal of wastage in the system.

There may be complaints about salaries, mobility, housing and numerous other things but actual employment does not seem to be an area for complaint. In any event, the days of rigid human resource planning on a territory-wide scale are surely at an end, with new jobs emerging, new industries developing and new opportunities opening up both regionally and internationally. Yet this context itself requires a note of caution on self-financed education.

The focus of self-financed undergraduate education must be on producing high-quality graduates. Such graduates must not only be able to meet market needs but also be capable of problem-solving, critical thinking, creativity, teamwork and entrepreneurship.

In all likelihood, today’s graduates may have six or seven careers in a lifetime and they must be ready to take them up and contribute in as many ways as possible. If such graduates come out of self-financed programmes, then the public invest­ment will be justified.

This is the responsibility of the private institutions and it is one that needs to be closely monitored. Public money must result in a public good, otherwise it will be wasted.

Some economists have made the point that a community’s aggregate skill levels can predict economic growth. Thus, the higher the average skill level, the more likely it is to stimulate the economy. It may well be that, in societies such as Hong Kong, Singapore and South Korea, the rapid growth of educational opportunities in the 20th century propelled each along very significant growth trajectories.

If private education institutions in the 21st century can produce high-quality graduates capable of grappling with social and economic issues, then this can only add to Hong Kong’s aggregate skill level. The more skilful our society, the more likely it is to be successful, and this will be a benefit to everyone, not just the graduates or their institutions.

In the end, the issue to consider when assessing the benefits of the new subsidy scheme is whether there are sufficient public benefits to warrant the investment.

A Star Ferry sails in Victoria Harbour in Hong Kong. If private education institutions can produce high-quality graduates, it will add to Hong Kong’s aggregate skills, and this will be a benefit to everyone, not just the graduates or their institutions. Photo: Reuters

It is generally accepted that the returns on any investment in higher education are more likely to be private than public and this provides the rationale for university students paying fees: they are the ones who will benefit most from their qualifications in terms of higher incomes over the course of a lifetime. Therefore, it is argued, it is only fair that they contribute to this personal outcome.

But graduates must also contribute to society, either in terms of their actual profession, or in other ways, in order to justify public investment. Students and their institutions accepting the subsidy must remember this.

Students will need to consider how they can contribute to the public good and institutions will need to look beyond their business plans to the obligations they will have to society at large. There is no such thing as a free subsidy!

Professor Kerry Kennedy is adviser (academic development) at the Education University of Hong Kong

Leave a comment

Carrie Lam must have a clear vision for Hong Kong education

CommentInsight & Opinion
Kerry Kennedy says the city’s schooling system needs to be transformed, from early childhood learning through to university, to provide the foundation for the renewal of Hong Kong as a whole
Chief executive-elect Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor has promised Hong Kong more funding for education. However, the Paris-based Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development has made it that clear funding is not always the answer to an education system’s woes.Abandoning the Territory-wide System Assessment or inserting Chinese history into the core curriculum are also not the answer: they represent tinkering and pandering to populist prescriptions.

What is needed is a clear vision to move Hong Kong forward at a time of considerable volatility and uncertainty.

What needs to be faced is that the education reforms which started in 2001 have played their role in seeking to transform the system to meet 21st-century needs.

They started with great support from then chief executive Tung Chee-hwa but languished as successive chief executives delegated and forgot about education. They funded it but did not care for it. This is an important lesson for Lam: she must set the direction, monitor it and constantly refresh it. There will be a new secretary, but it is the chief executive who should set out and carry the vision. There are significant challenges.

Some progress has been made on making early childhood education more accessible and this is an important achievement. But, from now on, the issue of teacher quality must take priority, so that children have access to the best teachers. This means the early years’ curriculum must be carefully crafted so it is not just maths, Chinese and English. It needs to encourage creativity and problem-solving, so children make a start on developing lifelong learning skills. A consensus needs to be built about the direction of this, now widely accessible, early childhood education.

The curriculum of primary and secondary schools must also be carefully considered. “Key learning areas” were part of the 2001 reforms. But are they still useful? Science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) subjects are now considered very important but are lacking in the current curriculum.

Historical, geographical and ­cultural understanding need to be better incorporated into the curriculum. Civic and citizenship education can’t continue to be neglected or left up to individual schools. ­Future citizens need to understand their rights and responsibilities and see the value of constructive ­engagement in the city’s affairs.

The city’s universities, most of which feature in top international rankings, must be given a freer hand to manage their affairs. The dead hand of bureaucracy needs to be ­removed. They do not need to be micromanaged around narrow sets of expected outcomes and performance indicators.

At the same time, young people need greater access to government-funded institutions: Singapore currently provides 40 per cent of the age cohort with access to university education while Korea provides the same for 80 per cent. This compares with just 18 per cent in Hong Kong.

Previous administrations have sought to build up private provision of higher education, thus forsaking their public responsibilities to ­develop an educated and caring ­citizenry. By all means develop the private sector, but as an adjunct to – not a substitute for – a thriving, innovative and leading-edge public sector with public responsibilities for the future welfare of the city.

There is currently no coordinating body that views education in an integrated fashion across all sectors. The Education Commission has served this function for the schooling sector, the University Grants Committee tries to do it for the university sector. But while recommendations have been made for a separate body to oversee the private education sector, no thought has been given to oversight of the early childhood sector. This results in a fragmented education system in which territory is protected, a common vision is avoided, and over which bureaucrats can rule without interference from either politicians or the public.

It is time for a Hong Kong education council with a brief for vision development and strategic thinking. The new chief executive must lead this council on behalf of the people and on behalf of the future. Education is not a bureaucratic area to be delegated: it is a strategic area on which Hong Kong’s future rests.

Across all sectors of education, teachers are the central players – supporting students’ learning and liaising with parents, with some rising through the ranks to lead schools. These schools can provide the foundations for renewal in Hong Kong.

A new education vision can bind a society through enunciating its common values and commitments. This process can start with the new chief executive embracing education as the key area of her ­administration. This would be a strong signal to the community that Hong Kong can rise again, with an educated and intelligent citizenry ready to face the future.

Professor Kerry Kennedy is a senior research fellow in the Centre for Governance and Citizenship at The Education University of Hong Kong

Leave a comment







這些報道正正折射了香港社會的價值取向——「前途=錢途」,金錢的回報是選擇工作時的首要因素。假如薪金待遇優厚, 何妨為五斗米折腰?相反,轉工沒有換來更好的待遇,彷彿愚不可及。人們願意為了五斗米而折腰,似乎已成常態。可是,只為錢而活也不見得快樂。很多香港人終日抱怨工作沉悶乏味、壓力大、沒有意義。











Leave a comment

讓學生掌握 應付未來的跨界能力





商界、社會及教育界的領袖相繼地建議本科教育融入發展學生的「跨界」(Transversal)或「可轉移」(Transferrable)能力(Competencies)。這些能力包括建立個人價值觀、批判性思維、理性解決問題、團隊合作及溝通、環球視野、自我管理及社群參與等。這牽涉到正規學術課程的研習,以及課堂和校外的體驗學習活動。這些可轉移的跨界能力一般也被稱為「二十一世紀能力」,而且要透過「更深度」(Deeper Learning)的學習而獲取。這些能力已證實於許多生活和工作情境中甚為重要。


更深度學習或二十一世紀學習就是一個人能夠將在一種情況下學習到的能力, 轉移應用到另一新的情況之動態過程,包括從一個學科領域應用到另一個學科領域,或從一個工作/生活任務轉移到另一個任務。


在過去十年,很多教育組織和院校一直在積極制訂各自的「期望畢業生特質」(Desired Graduate Attributes)清單或學習目標。教育文獻中載有多項所需核心能力的不同清單及模式,不同國家也沿用着不同的能力架構。