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  • Dec 23, 2014
  • Updated: 10:44am
NewsHong Kong

Rich grab more university places, study finds

Wealth gap in enrolment rates has ballooned to an unacceptable level in the past 20 years, says a researcher who urges help for the poor

PUBLISHED : Friday, 01 February, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 01 February, 2013, 4:25am

A gap in university enrolment rates between rich and poor students widened to an "unacceptable" level over the past two decades, an Institute of Education professor has found in a study.

Chou Kee-lee, associate head of the institute's department of Asian and policy studies, called for more initiatives to improve poor youngsters' opportunities in education.

Chou faulted the government's previous approach to tackling poverty.

"In the past, it was always thought that if you improved the economic situation overall, if you invested in economic development, everyone would benefit and there was no need to target the poor," he said yesterday. "But this is not true."

His study compared the enrolment rates of 19- and 20-year-olds from the wealthiest 10 per cent of families with those with household incomes less than half the median level.

It found that in 2011, the enrolment rate among the richer group was 3.7 times greater than that among the poor. In 1991, the difference was only 1.2 times.

The study was based on the government's census figures from those years.

In 2011, 48.2 per cent of 19- and 20-year-olds from richer families were enrolled at universities, compared with 13 per cent from the lower income group, the study found.

That is a dramatic change from 1991, when the figures were 9.3 per cent and 8 per cent for rich and poor families, respectively.

While the number of university places had risen over the past 20 years, Chou said it had not eased the disparity. "Yes, you make the pie bigger, you increase the number of spaces, but it's the wealthy who benefit more," he said. "We need to help those in poverty so that their opportunities in education are not affected by their families' financial situations."

Professor Paul Yip Siu-fai, a public policy researcher with the University of Hong Kong, said better access to higher education in recent years had benefited society as a whole. Yet it was still easier for rich families to place their youngsters in university, via expensive international schools and other routes.

"The university penetration rate has increased overall," Yip said. "The system favours [richer families] - but probably not at the expense of the less well-off, because all groups have benefited."

Chou's study also found that youngsters living below the poverty line were more likely to pursue non-degree tertiary education - 30 per cent of them in 2011, versus 23.6 per cent for wealthier students. This was another indication that the best educational opportunities were more accessible to the rich, he said.

Yip urged the government to strengthen support for students, either financially or by other means, to prevent them from "going into debt" after graduating from sub-degree programmes, which were often privately run.

Chou called for more initiatives targeting young people from poor families, including scholarships and workable schemes for reducing tuition fees.

He recommended that the government allocate more resources to schools attended by larger numbers of children from poor households.

Equal access to education was "the most important vehicle for social mobility", but insufficient support for poor children might make it difficult to prevent intergenerational poverty, he said.

Efforts to define poverty should not only look at financial indicators, Chou said, but also at factors such as educational levels, so that support could be targeted at the needy. "This is to prevent people from losing out at the starting line," he said.


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This article is now closed to comments

Ugly turn of psycho-intellectual poverty
Generalized diatribe like Magafun’s below shows the writer’s despicable personality if not supported by evidence
“MAINLANDERS grabs most (nearly 90%) of our postgraduate places …
a lot
of those mainlanders are
business/party undesirables”
SCMP editors must review the paper’s policy for readers’ comments
however, MAINLANDERS grabs most (nearly 90%) of our postgraduate places! The Government is not doing anything about this since alot of those mainlanders are children of corrupt influencial business/party undesirables.
... but of course, what else did you expect ?
In HK, money can literally buy anything.
I think we should also points out the school fee in this study.
Even though there are scholarship, we know that they are not given that easily.
Thanks to the researcher Prof Chou for a comprehensive study of the education inequality issue in HK.
We know in recent years it was there affecting social mobility and inter-generational poverty.
I know one NGO that is working on this area. It is a recipient of Operation Santa Claus 2012:
Teach Unlimited Foundation. Check out ****www.teachunlimited.org/
As a teacher of English in a language centre I have seen my students start to lose the skills they already had upon entering primary school in a lesser band school. Allowing such disparity in schools means that some children will not be able to learn the skills needed, will do poorly on the exams and will not apply to university. We are stealing these children's future. The government should equalize the quality of all schools and these 'Bands' should be abolished.
Quality of the teacher and the social status of the teaching profession are the keys.
My English teacher in primary school gave me the foundation for further studies which I never forgot.
A good teacher inspires even low motivation students.
There are nothing wrong with the banding, even without the banding, people will classify schools.
The problem is not just with banding but with student-parent-Gov't expectations and demands. A student in a Band 3 school has to follow the same syllabus as one in a Band 1 school. While there are some exceptional success stories, on the whole the students in Band 3 who have been fed the dream and the syllabus of gaining a university place, suddenly find themselves in the job market with no real skills. These students, and there are a lot of them, then target IVE to get practical training.
I am still not sure who it was who pushed for the new Diploma. Was it the universities who felt they could produce better graduates if they studied for 4 years? I rather think so. The majority have been sacrificed for the benefit of the minority or those who the Government listens to - the universities and the rich members of society.
Less academically gifted students now need to stay at school for an extra year to study academically slanted subjects, instead of being able to move to practical training a year earlier as was the case with the old system.
The Government's craving for all-inclusive tertiary education and the chance to laud a high percent of university graduates is bringing heartbreak and depression and wasted time to large parts of society.
It would be interesting to know the wealth index of APPLICANTS for university education, ie whether there were equal numbers of candidates from both ends of society. Then we can tell whether the wealthy had an edge, or whether the poorer students were not motivated. You can then tackle the problem properly, like increasing motivation rather than providing scholarships etc.


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