Sub-degrees have a bad reputation. Ever since they were created by former chief executive Tung Chee-hwa, they have been criticised as being too expensive while carrying little academic weight. Now Chung Yue-ping, a professor of education at Chinese University, has completed a study on the degrees' value for money and found that they are indeed worth the cost.
A generic term, sub-degrees refers to both the traditional higher diplomas and the more recent associate degrees, which were created as part of Tung's education reforms. Annually, they cost as much as a full degree course.
Using census data from 1996, 2001 and 2006, Chung studied 30,000 sub-degree graduates and found that they earn, on average, 15 to 40 per cent more than secondary-school leavers. That amounts to a substantial lead over a lifetime. To be sure, they still earn less than people with university degrees and professional qualifications. But many have been able to use their sub-degrees to gain admission to degree programmes, eventually earning a full university education.
Tung's intention was for more young people to have an opportunity to pursue higher education. However, universities were not expanding quickly enough. Creating associate degrees was his answer.
Yet many people took a snobbish attitude and looked down on the sub-degrees. Even many young people who cannot get into university think they are not worth the time and money. But this ignores how bosses look on job applicants with sub-degrees. It shows they have the drive, ambition and readiness to better themselves and become more competitive.
Hopefully, Chung's research can dispel widespread prejudice about the value of sub-degrees.