Speech on Motion on Caring about the education, employment, housing, home acquisition and business start-up problems faced by young people

Hon KP Chan on Motion on Caring about the education, employment, housing, home acquisition and business start-up problems faced by young people

Today, the Legislative Council discussed about the problems facing the young generation in Hong Kong, in the areas of education, employment, housing, home acquisition and business start-up. These obstacles are not unique to Hong Kong, but are something that the youth around the world is trying to overcome – especially global youth unemployment. The youth unemployment rate in Hong Kong is around 10% and up to 17% in the US. As for Europe, the situation is even more distressing, with over 30% of youth unemployment in Italy and over a shocking 50% in Spain and Greece. As we can see, young people around the world are becoming “a generation going astray”.

The youth becoming “a generation going astray” has its reasons. Ever since World War II, the world economy has had a long period of high-speed growth. Up to now, except for the few emerging markets, the economies of many nations have matured to a certain level. Thus, the chances for the youth to climb up their career ladders have significantly decreased. It is difficult for them to receive a fair pay back for their efforts and hard work like the previous generations. What is worse, whenever economic turbulence occurs, they are the first ones to be affected. It is no surprise that the youth unemployment rates in Europe have reached such terrifying figures.

Our fellow legislators have many valuable suggestions regarding the problems we are discussing today. However, I believe if the core issues are not solved, our efforts would just go to waste. The core issues which I am addressing are – the economic structural imbalances. To be more specific, we need to create more decent career opportunities for the young generation.

Contrary to what we may currently believe, Hong Kong’s economic fundamentals are still sound. However, the development favours the financial and real estate sectors, as munificent returns are promised. Many young elites want to enter these sectors, but unfortunately the supply surpasses the demand. For wholesome society advancement, I believe that besides consolidating the development of the financial sector, we must also change the imbalanced industrial structure. We can do so by boosting the six industries where Hong Kong enjoys clear advantages and at the same time, by reinforcing the amelioration of industry. Not only is this for the good of the economic development, but most importantly, to create versatile career opportunities; so that non-commerce students or young people who are not keen on studying can all have their own territory to fight for.

On the other hand, although Hong Kong is offering less and less prospects to the young generation, the development in Mainland China is beginning to ripe. The situation is just like Hong Kong in the 70s and the 80s – only diligence was needed to acquire the stairway to success. Young people in Hong Kong do not necessarily have to remain where they originate, they should go to the Mainland to traverse their own adventures.

However, it is often not easy for young people to find the doorstep into working in Mainland China. The Government needs to plan and help them explore in the Mainland. Firstly, more exchange activities should be arranged, so that young people can obtain more insights about the Mainland and subsequently generate interests. Secondly, the Government needs to help young people find jobs in Mainland China or traineeship opportunities. Even if one falls at first hurdle, he still learns from his failure, widens his horizon and is no longer a frog in the shallow well. This will be of tremendous help to the growth of the young generation in every aspect.

As many ideas as we might come up with to help the young generation, they need to plan for their own future. If they do not know to appreciate and make good use of the Government’s aid, all our efforts will be in vain. Most Hong Kong children grow up under favorable materialistic environments. Not only are they not capable of surviving rough conditions, they do not even have enough self-confidence; they are weak mentally as well as physically. I hope the education authorities can provide relevant courses to cultivate their willpower outside the regular academic curriculum. Only youngsters with determination can become the pillars of society.

Lastly, I would like to talk about education. Although I never did profound research on education policies, I am seeing a phenomenon. That is the post-graduation burden of having to pay off astronomical amounts of money from the Non-means-tested Loan Scheme. Back in the days of economic prosperity, young people were able to find well-paid jobs soon after graduation, and therefore had the financial ability to pay off their student loans. Alas, the current economy is nowhere near as good as before. On top of that, there are now more tertiary-educated students. Besides the academic elites, other fresh graduates must face the reality and accept jobs which do not have decent pay and future prospects to offer. It is not easy trying to survive everyday life whilst having to pay off heavy debts, not to mention saving up to get married and buying a home.

I urge the Government to begin a comprehensive review of all student finance assistance schemes. They must take the fresh graduates’ current situation into account and make targeted reforms happen. In my opinion, some solutions can be done immediately. For example, abolishing the risk-adjusted interest rate – this is a mode of operation for commercial organisations, it is not at all applicable for the Government’s tertiary student loan schemes.

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