Median salary of Hong Kong sub-degree graduates only 3 per cent more than those from high schools
Findings from think tank raise questions about quality and content of courses as well as market demand
The median salary of Hong Kong’s sub-degree holders was only 3 per cent more than that of high school graduates in 2016, a significant drop from the 25 per cent difference in the 1990s, according to a study released on Wednesday.
New Century Forum, a local think tank convened by pro-government legislator Ma Fung-kwok, based its analysis on official figures. The group called on the government to better equip sub-degree students with vocational skills that match demand from business sectors.
Sub-degrees refer to associate degrees or higher diplomas that range from one to three years. They involve courses with an academic focus and serve as a stand-alone qualification. They can also help students enter universities.
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The think tank study was based on income data collected by the government from 1996 to 2016. High school and sub-degree graduates born between 1967 and 1996 were divided into six generations – counting one batch every five years – with their median incomes in 1996, 2001, 2006, 2011 and 2016 compared.
Sub-degree graduates born between 1992 and 1996 – termed the sixth generation in the study – were found to be in the “most difficult” situation as the education they had paid for did not result in a commensurate return to income.
The study revealed that in 2016, this batch had a median monthly salary of HK$11,650, only 3 per cent more than high school graduates of the same age.
But 20 years ago, when the second generation of sub-degree graduates, who were born between 1972 and 1976, entered the workforce in their early twenties, they could earn HK$12,836 a month – 25 per cent more than peers who graduated from high school.
Work experience has also become less of a factor in boosting salaries.
In 2006, the second generation of sub-degree graduates who had been working for 10 years earned 32 per cent more than high school graduates with the same level of experience.
In 2016, the fourth generation – those then aged between 30 and 34 – only saw a gap of 15 per cent from their high school peers.
In 2000, then chief executive Tung Chee-hwa set an objective in his policy address, stating that 28,000 additional places for higher education would be created in 10 years so that 60 per cent of the city’s high school graduates would receive tertiary education. From this plan, the sub-degree education market grew quickly since 2001.
In the year 2016/17, 19,000 of the 31,700 students newly enrolled in sub-degree courses – about 60 per cent – were self-financed. These students had to pay about HK$110,000 for a two-year programme, according to official information.
Education minister: Hong Kong institutions don’t need bureau approval to offer sub-degree programmes or adjust fees
Chan Wai-keung, a lecturer from Polytechnic University’s College of Professional and Continuing Education who is also behind the study, said sub-degree education was “disconnected from reality” and had not improved in quality as the quantity of students grew.
Chan said the sub-degree programmes had been overly focused on preparing students for universities instead of the labour market. He added that this was also because university degrees were more valued in local culture.
The limited number of vocation-oriented courses offered have been lagging behind employer demand, Chan said.
He mentioned that some sub-degree students who seek jobs straight after graduation usually did not excel academically in their studies and therefore, if they also had not acquire proper vocational skills, they would not be offered good salaries.
When contacted by the Post, a spokeswoman for the Education Bureau said post-secondary institutions in the city had been revamped under the new academic structure to equip young people with a broad knowledge base and lifelong learning capabilities.