More are relying on part-time jobs to pay their way at the expense of studies as loans and credit card bills increase Nearly 50 per cent of Hong Kong students have to work to support themselves through university, a survey has revealed. The study, by the Caritas Family Crisis Support Centre, shows that 48.5 per cent of students rely on part-time jobs to pay their way. It reveals 42.2 per cent of university students in debt and 23.9 per cent saying they faced financial difficulties. Eleven per cent had average monthly credit card debts of $3,600. Paulina Kwok Chi-ying, supervisor of the Caritas Centre, said the survey's randomly-drawn selection of 858 students showed going to university was increasingly a financial burden for many families. She said she was worried students would work even longer hours as they accumulated more debts, particularly from credit cards. 'This will limit their time spent on campus and undermine their university education,' she said. Angel Chan, a social worker at the centre, cited the case of a former associate degree student who had deferred his studies: 'He supported his studies with a government grant and a loan but used credit card payment to support his living and social life. He called our hotline seeking help for his debt problems and is now working for a cinema chain.' Government loans to students have also increased. Figures from the Student Financial Assistance Agency showed the amount of money given under its 'non-means tested' loan scheme last year rose to $541.4 million from $454.5 million in 2002. The number of beneficiaries rose to 13,734, including degree and sub-degree students, from 11,886 in the previous year. Students doing their first degree numbered 6,772, compared with 6,287 in 2002-03. University tuition fees are currently $42,100 a year. There was also a 44 per cent increase in the number of loan defaulters among post-secondary students - 835 by September - involving $8.51 million. Chui Yat-hung, director of Hok Yau Club's Student Guidance Centre, said he was not surprised by the rise in debts: 'It is a rising social trend because students can get money in advance easily under the non-means tested loans scheme and through credit cards. 'I have seen three to four cases where the student was kicked out of university after they had skipped class [for work] and their grades had plummeted.' Fourth-year fine arts student at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, Yau Tze-wei, also a part-time tutor, admitted that working had affected her studies. 'I once failed a subject because I was working too many hours. I've learnt my lesson and work a lot less now.' Shum Kar-ping, chairman of the Federation of Hong Kong Higher Education Staff Associations, said he was surprised to discover students owning up to five credit cards and owing banks $30,000 a year. 'I think it is stupid for students who spent so much time and effort getting into university to work long hours at their part-time jobs and then fail subjects,' he said. He warned that the situation could intensify under the four-year system, when fees may increase to $50,000. 'Students will work even longer hours then. Universities should kick out those who have let their grades slip because of their part-time jobs. This could help the rest to work harder, saving universities' resources.' Gary Leung, a third-year accounting student at City University, said he skipped up to six hours of classes a week, while working 20 hours a week as a tele-bets operator at the Hong Kong Jockey Club, sometimes until 3am. He said he needed the money to support his family and maintain his lifestyle. Second-year Baptist University student Bonnie Chan Yuen-yan is working part time to pay her debts: 'I applied for the non-means tested loan last year to pay fees. Now I'm working on and off to save money to pay off the debt next year.'