Study dispels myth about some degrees

PUBLISHED : Friday, 19 August, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 19 August, 2011, 12:00am


Graduates with a higher diploma or associate degree earn 15 to 40 per cent more than secondary school leavers, a study found.

In the largest sample survey of its kind, Chinese University's education professor Chung Yue-ping studied the earning power of holders of what is collectively known as post-secondary subdegrees.

Using census data from 1996, 2001 and 2006, he studied 30,000 subdegree graduates. His analysis dispels a common myth that subdegrees carry 'high cost but low returns'. Their holders have a great advantage in employment and income compared with secondary school leavers.

'Fung shui masters can cheat you for decades, unlike education,' Chung said. 'If a subdegree is bad, employers will realise quickly that their employees who graduated from that subdegree can't perform and handle their problems.'

He said universities cared about the quality assurance of subdegree programmes because they were looking to see whether those students were good enough to be admitted into full-degree programmes.

'This can only happen if a subdegree curriculum is very similar to a degree's first two years.'

Tuition for a subdegree is about HK$40,000 to HK$50,000 a year, and it is not subsidised by the government, unlike degree programmes. Some have therefore questioned the value of a subdegree and complained of its pricey tuition, calling it a 'high cost but low return' investment.

By comparison, tuition for a full-degree programme is about the same as a subdegree. At the University of Hong Kong, it cost HK$42,100 for local students in the 2010-11 school year. But Chung admitted subdegree holders still lagged in employment advantage and wages compared with degree holders.

It is the first time census data has been used to compare salary differences of subdegree holders.

Higher diplomas have existed since the colonial era. Associate degrees were created by Tung Chee-hwa's administration in an effort to provide higher education to at least 60 per cent of youth by 2010.

By 2006, higher education graduates had already reached 65 per cent. The surge in higher education graduates is credited to the rise in certificates, diplomas, higher diplomas and associate degrees on offer. By 2006, there were 15,184 subdegree graduates in the labour market. Subdegree holders have an advantage, with a 4.2 per cent unemployment rate in 2006, compared with 5.9 per cent for secondary school leavers.

Chung urged subdegree programmes to raise their level and ensure the quality of their education to students and employers.

Kitty Liu Yan-kei studied media at HKU SPACE in an associate programme, then transferred to Baptist University, where she earned a bachelor's in communications in 2007.

'I thought a lot of the material covered at Baptist University was a duplicate of what I studied at HKU SPACE,' Liu said.