Hong Kong and Macau graduates of Chinese universities find limited job prospects

Studies show Beijing’s plans to integrate Hong Kong’s students are stifled by mainland bureaucracy and insufficient career development support in Hong Kong

PUBLISHED : Friday, 13 April, 2018, 10:01am
UPDATED : Monday, 23 April, 2018, 3:21pm

On July 1, last year, the Hong Kong and Macau governments agreed to work more closely with Guangdong’s major cities for the economic development of southern China’s Greater Bay Area. Their pact signalled more people-to-people integration, and highlighted policies to attract Hong Kong and Macau high school students to mainland Chinese universities. So, educators might ask whether such measures have helped these students look for jobs and build careers across the border after their graduation.

Increasing numbers of Hong Kong and Macau students are studying in mainland China. There were 10,307 Hongkongers studying across the border in 2008 and 15,483 in 2016, according to the Ministry of Education. Meanwhile, the Macau Education and Youth Affairs Bureau reports a gradual influx to mainland China, and the China Educational Statistics Yearbook 2016 noted there were nearly 6,000 Macau past or current students across the border.

However, a Beijing Institute of Hong Kong and Macau Scholars survey in 2017 revealed how these graduates fared in mainland China’s job market. Its 310 respondents consisted of 134 men and 176 women, of whom 202 were Hong Kong residents and 108 were from Macau. Of these, 252 were undergraduates, 46 were master’s students, and 12 were doctoral students.

The survey also found 224 students (72 per cent) had settled in mainland China without any direct relatives, and were indeed the “first generation of explorers in the mainland”. However, while 81 per cent of respondents wished to work in mainland China after their graduation, only 37 per cent of respondents found jobs, the survey said. So the researchers conducted field interviews to learn more about these Hong Kong and Macau graduates’ job search and career development experiences.

Their further study found that many of these Hong Kong- and Macau-based graduates had difficulty in looking for jobs, thanks to their “vague identities”. More specifically, these Hong Kong and Macau graduates experienced:

• The prolonged and burdensome procedure in applying for working permits, since they lacked the right kind of household registration in the mainland.

• The excessive cost of required health examinations.

• Hindrance from potential employers, and their reluctance to go through the complex application procedures for employing graduates from Hong Kong and Macau.

The Hong Kong and Macau graduates were also regarded by their potential employing units as “foreigners” when they tried to start up their own business, travel, accept medical care or just apply for credit cards.

The Hong Kong-based One Country Two Systems Research Centre reported similar findings in its October 2017 study of the employment fortunes of 1,154 Hong Kong residents who had completed their university education in mainland China. Its analysis revealed 70 per cent of respondents found Hong Kong-based companies did not recognise their university qualifications, even though many of these graduates were very keen to return home to work.

Respondents also reported how their job applications ran into difficulties over the border. Over 40 per cent of them had no social networks in mainland China, and 35 per cent revealed they had identity issues. Indeed, the most common barrier, respondents said, was in having no formal “household registration” in China, which created a major hurdle for them in the mainland Chinese labour market.

Their unpleasant job search and career development experiences were just the opposite to what they expected when they started their learning journey with Chinese universities – especially as 57 per cent of the respondents had anticipated good development prospects over the border. Also, 73 per cent of respondents considered higher education opportunities in mainland China as more affordable than in Hong Kong.

So these graduates were understandably disappointed to face difficulty in finding work on both sides of the border. Such hardship also explains why about 75 to 80 per cent of these graduates became “self-employed” and had to engage in entrepreneurial activities in the mainland and Hong Kong’s highly competitive labour markets. When the survey’s respondents were asked how the Hong Kong government could help them, the majority shared their frustrations, and criticised local officials’ lack of help in finding jobs or developing their careers after their graduation from mainland Chinese universities.

The graduates also reported how their job applications were limited by complicated administrative procedures. Hong Kong and Macau graduates without household registrations in mainland China found most small- and medium-sized firms would not spare their time and effort to help them apply for a work permit because the paperwork was too bureaucratic.

A focus discussion also revealed how many of the employing units either had no knowledge of the work permit application details, or were reluctant to go through the application process. Furthermore, Hong Kong and Macau graduates from mainland universities also faced problems when they tried to become regular residents, from opening a bank account and credit card applications, to medical and labour insurance, and their children’s education.

Such findings suggest a need for a greater understanding of policies to promote a stronger national belonging among Hong Kong and Macau youth. Realising the emergence of the pro-independence movement in Hong Kong over the past few years, particularly after the Umbrella Movement, Beijing has rolled out favourable policies to attract high school graduates to Chinese universities. However, this analysis has identified a gap between policy agenda and its implementation, especially when it is shaped by local interpretations. Despite a very good policy objective to help more young people from Hong Kong and Macau to develop strong national identity and careers over the border as regular citizens, our present studies reveal the frustration that Hong Kong and Macau graduates have encountered in job searches and career development. Such clear, self-created contradictions result from a failure of effective policy coordination across government bureaus, inevitably leading to the counter productive process of formation of “positive national identity” among job-hunting Hong Kong and Macau graduates in mainland China.

More specifically, the unsatisfying graduate employment and youth transitions commonly found across the globe are exacerbated by what sociologists have regarded as a general “responsibilisation” of young people in response to the emerging “risk society”.

As Stefan Kuhner, a social policy expert at Lingnan University recently points out: “Uncertainty in the post-industrial global economy has arguably become more privatised and linked to an ‘entrepreneurial’ conception of citizenship”, the changes in the nature of capitalism in the increasingly globalised world would have fundamentally challenged what may be described as the opportunity bargain as ‘social advantage is offered to individuals if they are prepared to gain a good education, financially supported or funded and or provided by the state and in which rewards are based on fair competition’ as Lauder, Brown, & Cheung argued. The failure in policy coordination and implementation discussed above would need the higher level of “intervention” across the governments in the Big Bay area if Beijing is really keen to pursue the strategic goals of making the Big Bay Development a success.