Hong Kong parents are second only to their counterparts from India in terms of the relative percentage they spend for their children to study abroad.
A survey by HSBC of 5,500 parents in 16 cities and countries around the world found that Hong Kong parents are willing pay 50 per cent or more for tertiary education. In addition, the survey found that three in every four parents in the city are willing to send their children abroad for tertiary education.
Of those polled, Hong Kong parents face the most expensive domestic university education, on average HK$757,000 for completing a four-year undergraduate degree, including tuition fees and living costs. Tuition fees comprised around HK$168,400 of the total.
The total cost is almost double that of the mainland and Taiwan, and four times that of Malaysia.
For their children who complete an undergraduate degree in the United Kingdom, Hong Kong parents shell out about HK$1 million.
According to the survey, the UK is a popular destination with parents in Hong Kong, Malaysia and the UAE – all formerly of the Commonwealth. In the same poll, 12 cities or countries including Singapore, Australia, Taiwan and the mainland prefer sending their kids to the United States.
Only the American parents regarded the mainland as a top place for overseas studies.
The survey researchers said most parents in Hong Kong belived that studying in an English-speaking country guaranteed their child a well-paid job and a brighter future than if they had not studied abroad. What is less clear is if that’s the case.
Hong Kong native Susan Kwan, 28, was sent to Swansea University in Wales in 2008. Keen to study aerospace engineering, she received a bachelor’s degree in the subject and a master’s degree in mechanical engineering in four years. “My parents saw no chances in me getting in the domestic universities” she said.
“They thought sending me abroad to study a profession such as aerospace engineering was worth the investment.”
Upon paying £42,000 (or HK$502,000) in tuition fees and £56,000 (HK$669,460) in living expenses, or a total of HK$1.17 million, Kwan’s parents had high hopes on her. But the cost did not immediately yield the returns she expected.
“British employers tend to hire locals,” Kwan said. “Aerospace engineering is not popular in Hong Kong.”
Kwan now works as an assistant officer and earns HK$18,000 per month.
Alexa Chow Yee-ping, managing director of AMAC Human Resources Consultants, reminded parents that investment in tertiary education did not necessarily translate into premium returns. “It depends which university you went to and what subject you studied,” she said.
Chow added that graduates from established universities like Oxford and Cambridge were certainly appealing in the marketplace. But graduates who studied business administration or pure science in less well-known universities were viewed as no different to other graduates given the surplus of fresh graduates each year in Hong Kong.
“Having a good command of English would add a bit of advantage,” she noted. “But at the same time, employers would not offer higher salary to overseas graduates than to locals.”