Hong Kong will allow university students to apply for roles in the civil service up to two years before they graduate, a relaxation that comes amid a rise in resignations from government jobs.

city university students
The City University of Hong Kong. Photo: Kyle Lam/HKFP.

Secretary for the Civil Service Ingrid Yeung said on Thursday that government departments would be allowed to open up applications to students who are rising to, or currently in, their third year of undergraduate study for those pursuing four-year degrees.

Students pursuing degrees that are not the standard four years will similarly be able to apply up to two years before they graduate.

“Every year, the government receives hundreds of thousands of applicants, and on average, hires around 10,000 people as civil servants. Majority of them are young people,” Yeung said. “We attach great importance to the development of young people and strive to create more opportunities for them. This is why we have specially launched these targeted measures.”

The city has seen a stark increase in resignations from the public service in recent years. There were 3,743 resignations in the 2021-2022 year, up from 1,863 the previous year, according to a Legislative Council document.

Ingrid Yeung
Secretary for the Civil Service Ingrid Yeung. File photo: RTHK, via video screenshot.

Civil service vacancies at the end of March last year amounted to 8.5 per cent, the highest since 1981. The Hong Kong Police Force accounted for the highest proportion of vacancies, while the Education Bureau and Food and Environmental Hygiene Department also had a significant number of vacant jobs.

Asked by a reporter how much the government believed the new measures would allow authorities to address the staff wastage, Yeung did not answer directly.

She said she had spoken with students at job fairs in recent years, many of whom “had a clear direction in their second or third year of university and hoped to join the civil service to serve Hong Kong.”

“This measure is intended to give these students who already have a very clear direction greater career prospects and certainty, so that they can focus on their studies,” Yeung said.

“Jobs in the public service bring a great sense of satisfaction… I encourage young Hongkongers with the will to serve to join the civil service, unleash their potential and aspirations, and contribute to the country and Hong Kong,” she added.

Police officer
Police officers in Hong Kong. File photo: Kyle Lam/HKFP.

Civil servants make up around 4.6 per cent of Hong Kong’s work force.

Hong Kong has recorded an uptick in resignations among civil servants since the introduction of an oath-taking requirement in January 2021. Civil servants are now required to sign a declaration of allegiance and pledge to uphold the Basic Law, the city’s mini constitution. The requirement prompted a union of civil servants formed during the 2019 pro-democracy protests to disband.

The city has also seen an emigration wave following Beijing’s passing of the national security law in June 2020. The legislation was enacted following protests and unrest triggered by a controversial extradition bill.

The move gave police sweeping new powers, alarming democrats, civil society groups and trade partners, as such laws have been used broadly to silence and punish dissidents in China. However, the authorities say it has restored stability and peace to the city.

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Hillary has an interest in social issues and politics. Previously, she reported on Asia broadly - including on Hong Kong's 2019 protests - for TIME Magazine and covered local news at Coconuts Hong Kong.