Graduate Support Fund overcomes adversity for students and employers
COVID-19 is affecting everyone, but its impact also depends on how we respond to it.
Soon after the outbreak of the COVID-19 in Hong Kong in early 2020, Lingnan University launched the Graduate Support Fund, initiated by the President Leonard K Cheng and the Vice-President Joshua Mok Ka-ho, who each donated 10 per cent of their annual income in April to support graduates in the economic shock of the pandemic and downturn in the job market.
Photo: 2020 graduate Kathy Chu Ka-ying (left) with Jenny Ko Lai-fong (right), Director of the Office of Student Affairs.
With other donations and aid, the Office of Student Affairs and Lingnan Entrepreneurship Initiative launched the Lingnan University Anti-adversity Graduate Employment and Training Programme and Graduate Start-up Business Incubation Programme in May 2020.
Key measures of the programmes include a salary subsidy of 30 per cent to the employers of Lingnan fresh graduates for four months (HK$20,000 maximum) and a maximum of HK$30,000 funding for each eligible graduate who starts up their own business.
“The start-up fund gives me the courage and support to try new things and explore more business ideas,” says 2020 graduate Kathy Chu Ka-ying, who started her online mind-body wellness platform with an online shop in August last year.
“I started and am now running the shop by myself. It’s not always easy as I had to start everything from scratch and learn things I don’t know along the way,” the BBA-Finance graduate says.
From making soap and taking photos to website maintenance and posting on social media, handling orders and customer services, Kathy’s routine is challenging. “In order to earn a living, I also have a part-time job so my schedule is quite packed.”
She finds this entrepreneurial life fulfilling however. “With the HK$30,000 support fund, I don’t have to worry much about the business, but can try new things and products that may help people.”
Afflicted by eczema in the past, Kathy found out how using handmade natural soaps could help, and so it was natural for her to make her own and then start a business. She used to suffer from depression too, which led her to build this platform to help others and promote mind and body wellness and healthcare.
“With a healthy mind and soul, many sicknesses including eczema may be cured,” she says.
Kathy, who hasn’t followed the normal route of a finance graduate, says: “I want to share my experiences, the positivity and mindfulness, and meet and help people with the same problems I had."
“The fund, as well as supporting students and graduates’ immediate needs, sows seeds in caring in the hearts of Lingnanians, and reminds them of their responsibility to give back to society whenever they can, just like this generous fund supporting them at this challenging juncture in time,” says Prof Albert Ko Wing-yin, Director of the Office of Service-Learning and the Lingnan Entrepreneurship Initiative.
“After all, Lingnan’s Liberal Arts oriented entrepreneurship education emphasises humanitarian innovation and inclusive entrepreneurship. Both reflect Lingnan’s motto ‘Education for Service’.”
Kathy’s courage, entrepreneurship and can-do spirit were further strengthened by living in a hostel at Lingnan for four years. “There I learnt how to take care of myself and, at the same time, how to make friends and get along with room-mates.”
“Lingnan encourages students to be independent with the hostel experience,” echoes 2020 BBA-Risk and Insurance Management graduate Carmen Cheng Chui-ying, who is now working for Aon Holdings Hong Kong Limited as a Management Associate. “It made me more sociable and gave me good interpersonal skills, which help a lot in developing my career.”
A broker acting as an intermediary between insurers and their clients, Carmen helps clients to manage risk and designs bespoke solutions for them. “Part of my job is to research markets all over the world and negotiate with the underwriters,” she says.
Apart from the practical knowledge and skills acquired from her BBA studies, Lingnan’s career services have also played an important part in her career. “I was in both the Lingnanian Executive Mentoring Programme and the Career Empowerment Programme. My mentor was very generous in sharing his knowledge and experience with me, which helped me to understand industry and the real world better. Several CV clinics and interview workshops also helped me to overcome challenges in seeking a job, especially at such a difficult time.”
“The Graduate Support Fund,” she adds, “is very timely, and welcomed by the students and corporations. Graduates can apply for a subsidy and scholarship to enrol in courses to improve their employability. A friend of mine who has benefitted from the fund and enrolled in a language course told me that the fund gave her a helping hand at a bad time. And the subsidy to the employers should be the highlight of the programme as it enhances the competitiveness of Lingnan graduates and helps us get jobs. Most if not all of my friends have been beneficiaries.”
Fung Shiu-hang, Practising Director of Mazars CPA Ltd, explains that the Graduate Support Fund helps both students and employers. “It increases students’ confidence in applying for a job and in their employability. During COVID-19, we are offering extra allowances and incentives to staff who are spending longer than usual on the Mainland due to quarantine. The Support Fund enables us to provide for them.”
Originally targeted at 2020 graduates, the University has decided to extend the programme to May 2022, and to cover 2019 and 2021 graduates. “Up to December 2020, we had 200 full-time job vacancies and 90 proposals,” says Jenny Ko Lai-fong, Director of the Office of Student Affairs. “Along with other initiatives, including a start-up fund, professional training and internships, scholarships, mentorships, internal recruitment, subsidies in postgraduate and continuing education, and counselling, over 600 of graduates have benefitted from the Fund.”
With the special fund of HK$2.9 million contributed by the University Grants Committee in November 2020, she adds, the University will roll out new series of campaigns, ranging from wellbeing and counselling services, career support, and professional training to internships and mentorships for students.