In our parents’ generation, Hong Kong only had two universities, The University of Hong Kong (HKU) and The Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK). Being a university graduate means one was the cream of the crop. Those who did not get into a university must either enter the work force or head overseas, usually to England, for university. Going to any university overseas then was a mark of social status.
Associate Degrees were created to pump up number of graduates
In 2000, the Policy Address given by then CE Tung Chee-wah pledged to make available tertiary education to 60% of secondary graduates within 10 years. The result was that local colleges were encouraged to create as many new Associate Degree and Higher Diploma programmes as possible. The sole purpose was pumping up the number of tertiary graduates. The schools on the other hand benefited from tuition fees.
A university degree might allow one to get a low level office job
Within a few years, the Government’s targets were met. But when the students graduated, they discovered another problem. They are now tens and thousands of dollars in debt but did not find their job prospects any better. They found that having a college degree did not give them their dream job, but only a low level one as an office clerk with a salary of just shy of HK$10,000 a month. Reality had hit them hard.
More university graduates do not mean more job opportunities
Creation of degree programmes do not equate to creation of new job opportunities. The pool of talents in the market remained the same. Many higher paying jobs were still only available for graduates of “top” universities and were still equally out of reach for the average tertiary graduate created by CE Tung’s educational reforms. The only difference to those graduates was their title, and their debts which will take years to repay with their meagre salaries.
Colleges stand to profit whilst putting graduates into deep debt
Those who do stand to benefit are the institutions offering Associate Degree and Higher Diploma programmes. Schools will charge hundreds of thousands of dollars simply to sell a dream to graduates that having a degree will allow them to escape poverty. But many dig themselves in a bigger hole by borrowing money to put themselves into massive debts. Meanwhile, the Government declares its education policy a success.
Hong Kong needs to improve the quality of its graduates, not quantity. The market is simply unable to absorb the sheer amount of graduates that the degree mills have churned out in the past decade. This is why many university graduates today find themselves with menial jobs with low pay. But the graduates themselves must also do some soul searching. Opportunities are given to those who are humble and willing to learn, not those who feel they are entitled just because they are now university graduates.