Is it worth it? Average wage for sub-degree holders drops 20pc, now paid similar to secondary school graduates

Observers question whether programme is worth pursuing if students have no intention of obtaining a degree

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 04 August, 2016, 11:08pm
UPDATED : Friday, 05 August, 2016, 9:31am

The median monthly income of workers with sub-degrees had dropped by almost 20 per cent over the past two decades, and workers with only secondary school education made almost as much last year, a latest study found.

The salary drop came as Hong Kong’s private residential property price index hit 296.8 last year, an increase of 177 per cent from 1995.

Researchers from think tank and political group New Century Forum, led by cultural sector lawmaker Ma Fung-kwok, said this showed that sub-degree holders did not enjoy Hong Kong’s economic growth and that it might not be worth it to pursue sub-degrees – that help students get into university – unless students wanted to obtain a degree.

“The level of the drop is really shocking,” Cliff Tang Wing-chun, vice-convener of the group said. “Hong Kong’s property prices keep shooting up but [sub-degree holders] cannot have a share in the economic growth.”

The study on figures – adjusted for inflation – released by the Census and Statistics Department found that sub-degree holders in 1995 had a median monthly income of HK$20,463, compared to HK$16,898 last year, which is a 17.4 per cent drop.

It’s a tragic reality that you earn the same income after spending so much money and two years on the courses
Cliff Tang Wing-chun, vice-convener, New Century Forum

A more detailed look into the figures found that 20 to 24-year-olds among the holders – likely fresh graduates – saw a 10 per cent drop in their income from HK$12,141 in 1995 to HK$10,934 last year.

In 1995, the level of income for this age group of sub-degree holders was 19 per cent higher than those with a secondary education, but last year, both groups had about the same income level.

“Sub-degree courses are not cheap,” Tang said. “It’s a tragic reality that you earn the same income after spending so much money and two years on the courses.”

In 1995, about 31 per cent of some 236,000 workers with sub-degrees had “low-skilled” jobs such as entry-level office workers, or sales and service staff. But last year, 44.5 per cent of some 291,000 such workers were in the low-skilled fields.

Tang said the government should provide more support for sub-degree holders to obtain university degrees, such as making student loans easier and more flexible.

Education minister: Hong Kong institutions don’t need bureau approval to offer sub-degree programmes or adjust fees

But Joshua Mok Ka-ho, vice president of Lingnan University, said the drop in income could also be the result of the increasing number of sub-degree holders. He added that sub-degree courses in the past were more profession-based, while nowadays many courses were similar to university courses, but, as sub-degrees, less recognised by employers.

He said there had also been a mismatch in the job market, with professions in high demand such as elderly care and steel fixing unpopular among students, which meant they would face fewer job choices.

“In Hong Kong, the definition of professionals seems to be very narrow,” Mok said. “But in Western societies, professionals can mean renovation workers and plumbers, and they not only have high salaries but enjoy a high social status as well.”