After our city's latest public examination, only 12,000 of the 28,000 young people who achieved the minimum entry level will be offered places funded by the University Grants Committee in our eight universities.
For years, these funded places have been capped at 15,000, and only 18 per cent of our youth are granted government support to do a degree course. Another 40,000 who do not meet the standard will likely enter the workforce, usually taking low-skilled jobs.
It is good to see some of our young people have not given up on furthering their studies, with many enrolling in associate degree courses. But it is unfortunate that the quality of such degrees and the path involved in bringing them to the level of a full degree still leave much to be desired.
Based on the latest census report, associate degree holders have the highest unemployment rate among school leavers, and are even worse off than high-school graduates. This can be explained by a mismatch in expectations among associate degree holders and a lack of recognition of their degrees in the community. Financial burdens are another problem; students tend to borrow money from family or financial institutions to fund their study.
Can the government give these young people more support? Can we make student loans interest free, repayable only after they secure a job upon graduation? Can we offer more incentives for students who do well or are gifted in craftsmanship, catering, sushi-making or any other skill that enriches our labour market?
Can we give the young a second chance? Not all will do well academically, but their skills in other areas can be developed. They need opportunities. For instance, the Marco Polo hotel has offered jobs for young people to try out their interests and skills in catering. We need more such companies.
Can we also support talented individuals by training them overseas? It will be an investment. The government should manage its finances prudently, but it should also be held responsible if it does not invest well by improving our human capital. Supporting the poor is important, but at the same time, we can also make a strategic investment in our young people to increase our competitiveness.
The young are not just our future; they are also our present. In our ageing society with a diminishing workforce, we need them to be well equipped. The government should engage them more often, listen to their needs and implement schemes to help them. They want to be heard, and most are willing to improve themselves if only they had a second chance. The community should provide the hope for our young to aspire, develop and flourish, so they can be our hope for tomorrow.
Paul Yip is vice-chairman of the committee on home-school co-operation and a professor in the University of Hong Kong's social work and social administration department