Education plays a critical role in determining and predicting an individual's social mobility and financial capability in the current world today. As such, governments from all over the world have over time invested in bridging the educational gap between different groups in societies. While education has the potential to improve the living standards of people in the low social-economic class in the community, the ease of access to quality education is primarily dependent on the social-economic classes of various individuals (Bathmaker, Ingram, & Waller, 2013). People in the high social-economic level often have the means to access quality education compared to people in the low social standards, which further increases social inequalities in society. Hong Kong, just like many advanced cities in the world, has over time invested in transforming its education system in favor of people in the low social, economic class, intending to close the income gap between different social levels. The economic disparity in Hong Kong is one of the highest in the world, with a Gini coefficient of 0.539 as of 2018 (Hung, 2018). As a result of the high standards of economic inequality in Hong Kong, the difference in education is inevitable, more so in higher education. This research paper, therefore, seeks to provide in-depth insights into the impacts of higher education in Hong Kong on social inequalities. More specifically, this paper attempts to establish whether higher education in Hong Kong reduces or increases the rates of inequality among the residents of Hong Kong city.
Inequality in the high education system in Hong Kong began right after the establishment of the University of Hong Kong (HKU) and the Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK), which were the pioneer universities in Hong Kong (O'Sullivan, & Tsang, 2015). Only the wealthy and affluent people from the high social-economic class in the society could secure a position in the universities while those low social-economic class hardly attained any higher education for lack of sufficient funds. As a result of the high educational inequalities in Hong Kong, the government made both primary and secondary education compulsory and government-sponsored to ensure that everyone, including those from disadvantaged backgrounds, attained primary and secondary education (O'Sullivan, & Tsang, 2015). However, because of the high number of students who had attained secondary education and the incapacity of the two central universities to cater to all the secondary school graduates, the government was forced to upgrade some of the already existing colleges to universities.
While the reforms in higher education helped to cater for some of the higher education needs, the tremendous increment of the demand for higher learning institutions forced the government to allow for private sub-degree institutions where students would self-finance their education. The emergence of the two learning systems, i.e., the public and government-sponsored system and the private sub-degree programs created further social inequalities since students in the public and government-sponsored universities acquired a better quality education that quickly enabled them to secure better jobs compared to students who attained the sub-degrees from the self-sponsored institutions (O'Sullivan, & Tsang, 2015).
Research Problem and Research Questions
The significance of developing an education system that fosters and encourages social equality in society is critical. Education in itself has the potential to significantly decrease the income and standards of living disparity gaps in communities if the education systems are correctly implemented (Brown, 2013). The Hong Kong government has tried to transform its educational systems over time and has successfully increased the number of its educated population. However, higher education institutions in Hong Kong are still perpetuating social inequalities through the various admission policies.
To begin with, when a major city like Hong Kong has one of the highest rates of income disparity, the income disparity will likely create a vicious cycle that would further worsen social inequalities. For instance, income disparities in Hong Kong may dictate the quality and level of higher education one gets, even though some of the higher education institutions are government-sponsored (O'Sullivan, & Tsang, 2015). Income disparity may hinder one from accessing any form of higher education entirely due to a lack of funds. The inability to access good quality education due to income constraints then creates a vicious cycle where social inequality between people in the low social-economic class and those in the high social-economic classes' increases and ultimately, the poor remain poor while the rich stay rich (O'Sullivan, & Tsang, 2015).
According to the 2011 Hong Kong census data, some of the districts in Hong Kong, which were termed as inferior due to their low median income per month, indicted that those districts had the least number of people with degree-level education (Census and Statistics Department of Hong Kong, 2013). Conversely, Hong Kong's regions with a high median income per month reported a relatively high number of individuals with degree-level education (Census and Statistics Department of Hong Kong, 2013). These outcomes are an indicator of the disparity between the attainment of degree education between the rich and poor districts and by large, the findings illustrate the inequality in attaining degree level education between the high and low social-economic classes in the Hong Kong's society, even though the public university degree programs are government-sponsored.
Secondly, the enrollment policies in the higher education system in Hong Kong's public and government-sponsored universities are formulated to favor the non-local and international students who often come from the mainland China while disadvantaging the local Hong Kong students, thus significantly contributing to an increment of social inequalities (O'Sullivan, & Tsang, 2015. Due to the international ranking positions eyed by most public universities in Hong Kong, universities tend to enroll more international students compared to local students. The public University positions for the local students in comparison to the spots designated for international students are relatively low, implying that the number of international students in the universities is proportionally higher compared to the number of local students in the same universities. In 2018/2019, the estimated overall number of secondary school admission was above 327,000 while the admissions to the public and government-sponsored universities for undergraduate courses were 86,037, and those for the sub-degree courses were 3849 adding up to a total of 89,886 students for both undergraduate and sub-degree courses (The university grants committee, 2018). The percentage of the students in public universities, compared to the students enrolled in secondary schools is 27.49%, which is significantly low (The university grants committee, 2018).
Overall, there is a need for a deeper understanding of the impacts of higher education in Hong Kong on social inequalities and the reasons that contribute to the continued social disparities arising from higher education, even though Hong Kong's government has enacted measures that transformed the higher education system.
This paper will address the following research question;
How does the government-sponsored or the private self-sponsored higher education institutions in Hong Kong impact on student's transition from education to work?
How does higher education in Hong Kong encourage entrepreneurship and self-employment?
What is the overall view and role of students, parents/ guardians, and other stakeholders towards higher education in Hong Kong?
Rationale for Research
The issue about education and social inequalities has, for a long time been a subject of discussion in many countries such as in the United States of America and Britain, where mostly, the difference arising from education is as a result of racial disparities. While a lot of research has been done to elaborate on how education further widens the income gap between people of various ethnic groups, little research has been done to understand the social inequalities arising education in countries and cities where race is not the primary factor. As such, being an interested party in higher education matters in Hong Kong, I have the responsibility and opportunity to investigate how higher education impacts the overall social inequality in society. Ultimately, I intend to raise awareness about disparities in higher education in Hong Kong to the major stakeholders, such as university administrators, to initiate policy changes that tend to facilitate the inequalities.
The study about social inequalities and higher education in Hong Kong will act as a theoretical framework for further research by students and other interested stakeholders to provide more insights and a better understanding of the problem. The significance of this study in practice is that it will assist the stakeholders in identifying the loopholes in the higher education systems and will consequently help them to formulate efficient solutions that would entirely curb inequality facilitated by higher education systems in Hong Kong or significantly reduce it.
Researchers have, over time, invested in research towards understanding the relationship between education and social inequalities in different countries. This literature review will focus on a few of these previous research works in a bid to understand the main concepts about the topic. Additionally, this literature review will assess the strengths and weaknesses of the research literature previously done and consequently justify the importance and relevance of my research project.
Education Inequality, Social Mobility, and Social Inequality
Education inequality is the unfair distribution of resources and opportunities relating to education, such as educational funds, tutors, and academic resources such as books, among others, between various social classes in the society (Brown, 2013). According to Brown (2013), there is a considerable correlation between the level of one's education, the opportunities that one is likely to encounter in life, and the overall social mobility of the individual. The higher the level of education of an individual, the more opportunities one is expected to encounter, and the higher the social mobility of the person (Brown, 2013). While Brown (2013) acknowledges that there have been policy reforms to improve social mobility and, more specifically the intergenerational social mobility across all social classes in the society, he doubts the success of such improvements in achieving social equality as intended. Contrary to Brown's (2013) argument about education, opportunities, and social mobility, Triventi (2013) argues that the social origin of an individual significantly impacts the opportunities one is exposed to and ultimately affects their social mobility.
In a study carried out by Triventi (2013) on a group of graduates from various countries in Europe, it was established that the graduates whose parents had acquired tertiary education were exposed to better opportunities and were more likely to have highly rewarding occupations compared to graduates whose parents had no tertiary education. The findings of Triventi (2013) agree with the results of (Marginson, 2016), who also established that families' desire to maintain their social status and advance in social classes significantly determines the opportuni...
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