Enhance the value of associate degrees

These students have found little demand among employers, and now find themselves excluded from the new financing for education reforms announced by Chief Executive Carrie Lam

PUBLISHED : Monday, 10 July, 2017, 12:50am
UPDATED : Monday, 10 July, 2017, 12:50am

In acting quickly to deliver on a HK$5 billion extra commitment to education, new Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor has raised expectations that development and reform of this sector will remain a core focus of her administration. We hope so. Nothing is more important to Hong Kong’s competitiveness in a globalised knowledge economy of the future. The headline initiatives of subsidised university studies for up to 40,000 self-financing school-leavers and permanent job security for 2,300 younger school teachers earned well-deserved plaudits. But it takes more than a few days to engineer a meaningful change of course in such a big-spending sector. A chance to make a real difference may present itself in just three months, when Lam makes her first policy address.

Funding for the initiatives announced on her fifth day in office are not expected to face too many obstacles in the Legislative Council. There is room for debate about detail but they address pressing concerns from across the political spectrum. Even with HK$1.4 billion still to be committed, the boost in resources looks convincing. However, as Lam herself says: “The increase is only the first step.” In mapping education strategy and planning policy, the government needs to identify fundamental problems. Presumably officials who send their children to international schools know some of the issues in the public system that educates most of our young people.

Don’t see Hong Kong’s associate degrees as substandard

That said, education has been a political hot potato since the city’s first chief executive, Tung Chee-hwa, came to office 20 years ago with a strong belief in investing in it. Since then several rounds of education reforms have yielded problematic results for various reasons. Lam has taken the first step in reaching out to the education sector to create a harmonious atmosphere. The general direction is right but a number of issues bear close examination. The education system tends to be scapegoated when problems emerge, which does not do justice to our educators. That is not to discount flaws, such as rigid schooling in a pressure-cooker environment. Indeed, new education minister Kevin Yeung Yun-hung has said local schools could learn from their international counterparts in reducing drilling and developing happy learning environments.

The elephant in the room remains the associate degree programme, meant as a stepping stone to improve the prospects of school leavers who cannot get into universities. Alas, these students have found little demand among employers, and now find themselves excluded from the new financing. It is therefore good to hear Yeung promise to review the role of these courses. Hopefully, by the time Lam delivers her first policy address, the government will have decided how to tackle a big problem that affects the future of so many people.