Lingnan scholars find overeducation negatively affects attitudes towards migration to GBA

19 Jul 2021

Overeducation tends to dissuade young people from moving to the Greater Bay Area (GBA), which indirectly supports a social capital theory (SCP) rather than a human capital theory (HCT), that explains why Hong Kong young people wish to invest in higher education, according to Assessing the connection between overeducation and migration intention in Hong Kong’s young working adults, a study conducted by Institute of Policy Studies (IPS) of Lingnan University (LU). 


According to the HCT, people invest in higher education in order to accumulate human capital, move up the career ladder, and increase earning potential.  So when the labour market in their home country cannot meet their ambitions, overeducated working adults look for opportunities in other countries, and seriously consider migration as an option to translate their surplus human capital into economic capital.


But in the SCP, motivation to acquire a higher education is more to accumulate social capital and build social connections. Under SCT, overeducated individuals are unlikely to be interested in migration as this would mean abandoning the social capital recognised in their home country.


The study focused on Hong Kong’s young working adults aged between 18 and 35 years old in the lower occupational classes with full-time employment. The final sample included 109 individuals who fulfilled the survey criteria among some 1,200 young adults invited in 2019, they worked in service and sales workers (56.0%), craft and related workers (12.8%), plant and machine operators and assemblers (11.0%), and elementary occupations (20.2%). Of the participants, 67.0% were male, 83.5% were born in Hong Kong, and all others were born in Mainland China. 48.6% of them were middle school or high school graduates, 22.9% have a diploma or an associate degree, while 28.4% have a bachelor’s degree or above. 32.1% of respondents have a monthly income below HK$15,000, 55% between HK$15,000 and HK$25,000, and 12.8% earned over HK$25,000.


Participants were asked to share their views on the following:

  • Concerns about emigration (losing links with relatives in the home country, working with Mainland colleagues, internet restrictions, a different lifestyle, and education for the next generation) 
  • Confidence in their prospects in the GBA
  • Confidence in opportunities in the GBA
  • Likelihood of emigrating to the GBA.


The findings showed that the attitude of overeducated workers is more negative towards migration to the GBA than those adequately or undereducated, indicating that overeducated workers are more sensitive to the loss of social capital through migration. The findings show indirectly that SCT, rather than HCT, is more likely to explain the motivation to pursue higher education in Hong Kong.


“These conclusions will provide valuable input for policy makers when they review the expansion and massification of higher education in Hong Kong, and the initiatives introduced to foster regional integration between Hong Kong and Mainland China,” said Prof Joshua Mok Ka-ho, Vice-President of LU and Director of IPS, who led the project with Prof Alex Zhu Yuefeng, Research Assistant Professor in the IPS.


“Since young people in Hong Kong are not mainly motivated to enter universities for human capital, but for social capital and networking resources, policy makers should, when steering the development of higher education, not only refer to the dynamics of the labour market, but also take into account the demand for social capital among young people,” said Prof Mok.


The study is also a reference for the HKSAR and Central Governments, who are keen to encourage Hong Kong graduates with higher educational qualifications to move to the GBA. Various economic incentives have been offered, however, if Hong Kong youth mainly engage in higher education for social capital, they are not likely to favour migration to the GBA as that would involve the loss of social capital accumulated over the years in Hong Kong. Prof Mok said “the governments on both sides need to pay more attention to social and cultural integration, instead of just focusing on economic initiatives. For example, young working adults in Hong Kong place more emphasis on work-life balance than material well-being.”


These findings were published in the international publication Journal of Education and Work.