My Take

Aspiring scholars left angry and frustrated

An increasing number of highly educated graduates are leaving university with little opportunity for a job in academia. Is it any wonder some are feeling bitterness towards our society and its unfair systems?

PUBLISHED : Monday, 02 October, 2017, 9:03pm
UPDATED : Monday, 02 October, 2017, 9:03pm

Disgruntled university graduates facing poor job prospects have sometimes been blamed for causing the rise of radicalism in Hong Kong politics. Perhaps the same may be said about those with PhDs and other advanced degrees.

These are the young – sometimes not-so-young – scholars who aspire to an academic career. Yet there just aren’t enough such jobs to go around. Many end up working as glorified teaching assistants on short-term contracts with no benefits. They rightly feel exploited. It’s not much of a stretch for them to apply the scholarly critiques they learn from books to our society and its unfair systems.

One of the most widely circulated clips from last week has been about remarks made by a lecturer called Li Ming at a Chinese University forum. Hers was a much-welcome voice of reason offering a calm analysis on recent conflicts between mainland and local students on university campuses. But what brought tears to the eyes of a participant was when Li said she felt the student’s pain and fear of entering the workforce, too. This is because young academics like her face an uphill battle to get on a career track; many become disillusioned.

Why the campus feud between Hong Kong and mainland Chinese students?

You don’t have to look far: just think of the current legislature. Disqualified localist lawmaker Lau Siu-lai has a PhD in sociology and taught for a long time as a tutor before joining the faculty of the Polytechnic University’s Hong Kong Community College, which offers sub-degrees and diplomas.

Lawmaker Cheng Chung-tai, a teaching fellow at the Polytechnic University, was fined HK$5,000 for desecrating the national and Hong Kong flags in the legislature. The chairman of the radical Civic Passion, he was earlier secretly taped shouting obscenities while saying two previously disqualified legislators “should just die” and that the voting public was “retarded”. Such bitterness!

Legislator guilty of desecrating Hong Kong and China flags

Since the government delinked the salaries of university teachers from the civil service pay scale in 2002, ostensibly to give more autonomy to the schools, universities have increasingly turned to short-term contract hiring.

“University teaching may seem glamorous”, read the headline of a recent editorial on news website HK01, “but it’s really a vale of tears”.

When you let lots of people have degrees, you don’t just lower standards, you also raise expectations, but without providing commensurate jobs to satisfy them. Is it any wonder there are so many angry, frustrated but educated young people out there?