Graduate unemployment is not just personal. It represents a waste of a community's resources. Unfortunately, except for the top echelon of students, a university education has long since been no guarantee of a job. Advanced economies create fewer jobs for more graduates, who are therefore vulnerable to exposure to an employment market for which they are ill prepared.
Looked at that way, the demand from thousands of Hong Kong school graduates for sub-degree and vocational education programmes this week is positive for the city. Most of them attained scores in the Diploma of Secondary Education exams that failed to meet or barely met university requirements. But they have a chance of emerging from post-school education with a skill set designed for the workplace, or rounded by maturity for further study at university.
Hong Kong still offers a lot of vocational opportunities for motivated candidates, and parents and students have to accept that job security does not necessarily require a university education. Community demand for certain occupations is undiminished, as evidenced by applications for service industry, child education and social work courses, among others, offered by the Vocational Training Council.
Though more than 60 per cent of those who sat the DSE exams did not achieve the minimum scores required for university entry, the examinations authority noted a steady improvement in performance. This included a marked improvement in the core subject of English, in which 52.8 per cent of students attained the minimum level or higher, up 4 percentage points on last year, compared with only 50.7 per cent in Chinese, making it the core subject in which students performed worst this year. This has left a number of candidates in the ironic position of having qualified in all the core subjects, including English, bar their own language. The improvement in English is good news for an international city, but the decline in Chinese exam performance warrants scrutiny.