Published: 19:01, February 3, 2023 | Updated: 19:01, February 3, 2023
Yip: Govt needs to better engage youths
By Eugene Chan

Professor Paul Yip (right), founding director of the Center for Suicide Research and Prevention at the University of Hong Kong, talks with Eugene Chan, host of Straight Talk on Jan 31, 2023. (PHOTO PROVIDED TO CHINA DAILY)

Founding director of the Center for Suicide Research and Prevention at the University of Hong Kong professor Paul Yip is on the show on Jan 31, 2023. Prof Yip says while the first ever Youth Blueprint is a welcomed direction, the government really need to engage youth in formulating these measures, let them advise and decide them instead.

Check out the full transcript of TVB’s Straight Talk host Dr. Eugene Chan’s interview with Professor Paul Yip.

Chan: Good evening. This is Eugene Chan on Straight Talk. Our guest this evening is Professor Paul Yip, the founding director of the Center for Suicide Research and Prevention at the University of Hong Kong, and the chair professor at the university's Department of Social Work and Social Administration. This evening, we want to ask Professor Yip, how can we inspire our youth? Welcome, Paul.

Yip: Welcome, Eugene.

Chan: A few weeks ago, we had Secretary for Home and Youth Affairs Alice Mak on the show. And we asked her how our youth can be empowered to success. She shared with us the government's first youth blueprint, and how it aims to provide an enabling environment for young people to unleash their potential. I think we all agree that youth issues are not straightforward matters. But I'm sure many of the viewers, including parents, and the youth themselves, would benefit from your insight. So maybe we can start by getting some views from you. What characterizes our Hong Kong youth of today?

Yip: Well, I thank you for the continuous improvement of the educational opportunities for young people. I think in the past two decades, I think our young people, their educational opportunities have increased. So most of them, they are better educated. I think, according to the latest census, I think, nearly 60 percent of our young people, I think they received the post-secondary education. So, they're smarter, and then they're better informed.

Chan: Right, I suppose this is what you said, in a public arena, you said, this generation is like no other. So, are you saying that they're actually more educated and have more exposure compared with the youth of the past generations?

Yip: Well, they not only have more exposures, I think, they also like to be able to participate, I think, in a lot of things, they like to have some ownership of their futures. And they also like to be... want their own voice to be heard.

Chan: Right. I asked Secretary Alice last time when she was here, I said, what actually, under... who are actually under the group of youth, and she told me is over like over 2 million population between 15 to 40. So, when you just mentioned that our youth are more exposure, they are more keen to participate. Are they different to the past youth from maybe the last previous generations that we had?

Yip: I think, you know, the previous generation, I think, because I think their living standards are not as high as now. And they are really working very hard, I think, to get them fit. But now I think because of the hard work of the parents, I think they provide a better environment for them. But now, so what they're looking for, is not only a job, is not looking for an apartment, although it is very difficult to have an apartment now. But they always like to have their quality of life. I mean, the quality of life means the sense of a good environment, which can really bring the best out of them.

Chan: Right. Another area, I'm sure all of us will agree that the social media of current state is much more prevalent than our time and a lot of people are saying that this is a two-edged sword. In your opinion, is it better? Or is it positive or negative? Maybe I use those words.

Yip: Well, I will say that it is a good servant, but a bad master. I think in our data, it showed that I think for those young people who spend more time on social media or too much time on social media, I think their mental health are not very good. On the other hand, I think if they use their time wisely, the use of social media to connect to people, they acquire for the knowledge and actually they are doing okay. So, I think it's really, as a matter of fact, how they can make good use of this servant, I think to serve their purposes.

Chan: Right, professor, thank you for really setting the scene right at the beginning of the show, saying that they're prepared to participate, more exposure, more educated. Let's look at the challenges. I mean, of course we are trying to support them when we use the word help.

Professor Paul Yip, founding director of the Center for Suicide Research and Prevention at the University of Hong Kong, on Straight Talk on Jan 31, 2023. (PHOTO PROVIDED TO CHINA DAILY)

Yip: Help isn't the most appropriate word, I don't think. And now you know, our government look at Mr John Lee's manifesto, he always talks about schooling. We talk about entrepreneurship, the career, or even getting an apartment.

Chan: But before we reached such big goals, the more general things that we want looking are schooling, the family, or even starting to have a relationship, others look at their career. So, you being an academic, you met a lot of university students over the time. Do you think the difference in challenges of 2023 is different to the ones that we had in the past generations?

Yip: I think in 2023, I think we have this feeling of hopelessness, I think among our young people. They have a sense of helplessness, I think... so sometimes we really hope them… they do have a hope. Because once they have a hope, they will have the energy to put up with the hardship, to have the resilience, to put out all adversities. What we worry is what they call the lying flat. Their lying flat is not they want the lying flat. It is because I think they cannot see what good it will do even if I work very hard to know. So, I think that one thing what we really hope the government can do is to induce the hope. And then to rebuild the trust among our young people,

Chan: Right, professor, you know, you being at the University of Hong Kong, you know, in the last few years, you're right at the center of kind of at the social unrest, or what we call the riots. And we are now always talking about promoting social reconciliation. Many young people involved in the social unrest were unfortunately arrested, but now just released from the institutions. And Secretary Chris Tang reported that 60 percent to 70 percent of those with related to protest charges are in remorse. So many of them are students. So how can we say, I won't use the word help again... how can we assist them to get back to university or even get back to employment? What can the university or what can the government do?

Yip: Well, I think everyone, if they've done something wrong, if they have truly remorse for the action, and then we should give them a second chance. But as a matter of fact, I think the government being the Commissioner of Police, and a lot of other people they do try to help our young people, I think what we want to do is to try to help our young people to have a better understanding of the situation, and to give them the resources and environment and such that they really can go back to the mainstream of the society. Because at this moment, we have heard I think, some of the universities, they might not accept the students back, or some of their employers, I mean, they do not want to give their job opportunities for these young people. And actually, that is very unfortunate, because most of the young people, I think they do really want to put the thing behind. And then I think to restart their life again.

Chan: Right. I think another matter that we must also touch on since you're here that I'm sure all of the viewers want to hear your insights, is about the impact of COVID. I believe you raised many concerns that last year, when the suspension of face-to-face classes at that time, and now that all that has been reinstated, kind of, are the worries over? Are there any lingering effects from that? And also what shall the educators to be aware of this scenario that we went through?

Yip: Well, I think first of all, we have to reiterate, I think the importance of schooling for young people. Are they going to school? It is really a place, not only they acquire the knowledge, but they build up the friendship. I think that's very important. I think when we ask the young people, if you do have the problem, how would you approach? Usually it's not a social worker. I mean, they would approach, I think their classmates, their friends. I think in the past three years, because of the disruption of the classes and sometimes this type of relationship, they do not have the opportunity to establish. So, I think the last year what we have seen because of the school disruption, it does cause I think a lot of anxiety among young people and such that the peer support cannot be established. So hopefully, now I think the school has been restoring now and we are going to start full day school again. And so hopefully, I think the school can take their time to rebuild this relationship, and to try to really make the school as a place where their support and the knowledge can be found for our young people's.

Chan: Right, professor, I'm sure in the past few years, or even 10 years, many Hong Kong residents are not satisfied with what the government can provide Hong Kong. But on the other hand, let's be sensible, I mean the government is only there to support when we're ready to put our work together. And of all the problems that you have said earlier, mainly hope is one thing that really has been singled out. So that being one of the major issues that our youth have faced, are not lying flat, as you said, what can the community or actually government should do or actually can't achieve in your view?

Yip: Well, I think that the government indeed has done quite a bit, I mean they really tried to engage the young people again, and then they like to create more opportunities in the Greater Bay Area for our young people. That's a good thing. So, I think our young people, we do need opportunities. But at the same time, I think it is very important for the government to realize that engaging our youth, it is not something as optional, it's not a gift to the young people. I think if you're doing well, so I will enlist you in the committee. Because all the policies should be for our young people, because Hong Kong doesn't have a future, if we do not have young people and as what President Xi (Jinping) said, our future lies on our young people. So, we need our young people better educated, we need our young people, they are more resilient. I think they need our young people, they can really help to make Hong Kong, to be sustainable in our development.

Chan: Well, let's go to a break now. But viewers, please stay with us, we will be right back.

Chan: Welcome back. With the recent release of Hong Kong's first Youth Blueprint, we have been continuing to talk about how we can engage better with our youth. And this week, we have Professor Yip from the University of Hong Kong. So Paul, in the first part, you have clearly stated hope is what is most needed amongst our youth, and that they don't intend to lie flat. And actually having them to participate in the government committees isn’t a gift, but rather we should go into the crowd and engage with them, that's all a clear message in the first half. Let's go back to our ever first government’s first Youth Blueprint. And as you just rightly pointed out, that President Xi said clearly that with our youth doing well, Hong Kong will do well. And it’s obvious because they are the future pillars of our society. When you look at the 160-plus initiatives at the Youth Blueprint, Secretary Alice said that their vision, let me read it out to you, is to cultivate our youth into a generation that loves Hong Kong and our country, courts international perspectives, and possesses a positive mindset; they will ramp up the sense of belonging to the country and Hong Kong among the youth, and they have a thorough understanding of the Constitution and Basic Law. We understand that because we had a lot of issues with the law. But do you think these are the answers?

Yip: Well, I think the goals are noble and they are important, and then there are 160 measures. I do hope… I think the government can implement it effectively and efficiently.

Chan: So it is on the right track?

Yip: It is on the right track. But furthermore, I think we need something more. I think we also need to address, I think, some sort of fundamental mindset change of the government. For example, I take the example that the government likes to enlarge the coverage of the consultation committees, I think to listen to our young people. It seems that the government is granting the right to some people, as some sort of a reward, as a gift. But if I were them, I would choose to embrace our young people in the whole publishing… policy formulation processes. We say this is cocreation because I think this policy are for them. So have we ever really brought them onboard, I mean to formulate this policy together? I think sometimes we make them as one of the members, but we don’t really put them on, I think this sort of mindset is very important. And then the other thing, I think there is a lot of policies saying that if we involve our young people in the whole developmental processes, they are the indispensable, they are the essential, for effective policy formulation and good governance. We have many experiences, overseas countries and locally. Don't underestimate our young people. I mean they do not have to follow the old path, the old path might not work, the old path might not be available anymore. So we really have to listen to them, we always provide them necessary resources. I think to working with them. Sometimes in our university, in some of our projects, our young people always surprise us, with their own ideas. So I think it is a time that we really how to embrace them, from the very initial formulation, setting the stage, and up till implementation.

Chan: Professor, with this first ever government Youth Blueprint since the return of sovereignty over 25 years or even before that, it is interesting that such an important document doesn’t have much publicity. Or actually I heard that amongst the media friends or even amongst government friends, the community seems to be very lukewarm with this. Why do you think this is the case? Is it because it's not hitting the nail at the right place? But you said it’s on the right track.

Yip: It is on the right track, but it is nothing exciting. If you really want to excite our young people, I think you really have to address the so-called the deep core problem. But at this moment, what I am saying is that the measures are good, but at the same time, I think we still have to address the fundamental concerns about our young people, they like to be represented, they like their voices to be heard, and then they like to actually take some ownership of the policy. But at this moment, it is everything that… it is apparently set up by the adults, and ask the young people “why don't you just hop in?” But that is not what they want, I mean the young people like to be in charge.

Chan: Right. Secretary Alice also said that the government has to face the challenge how to efficiently communicate with our young people. So my question that I was going to ask you – do you think they have succeeded in engaging with our youth? So will your answer be no?

Yip: Well, I think it seems that they need to work much harder, to reengage our young people more effectively. What we have seen in the past, it does not work very well. I think in 2019, when you see the social unrest, you see there were a lot of young people, they come out, they do express their dissatisfaction I think on the governance.

Chan: Right. Paul, not only Secretary Alice, but our Chief Executive John Lee, also in his manifesto, has categorically mentioned youth as a very important area. Do you think our youth actually felt their genuine intention? And also do you think they will appreciate at least this gesture? Or at least these plans they have?

Yip: I think I still can remember, I think there was a chief executive said that young people, they do not have any stake in the society. That really hurts, that really made a lot of young people, they are disappointed with the government, and then they were losing their trust. So I think at this moment, we really have to work very hard to rebuild the trust. And then but this trust cannot rely on words, it really relies on the deeds, what actually we have done to really meet the aspiration of our young people.

Chan: But will you say that this government with having a new chapter, are we also in the right direction?

Yip: Well, we wish them well. I mean I really wish them they can really carry out what they have pledged, and then do it effectively, do it efficiently, and also have an open mind to embrace our young people. I think Hong Kong, we do need our young people, and then we do need to train our young people to be smarter, to be better, to understand Hong Kong, understand the mainland, and then try to be a global citizen, to be able to happily live in Hong Kong, continuously contribute to Hong Kong and the mainland development.

Chan: Right. Paul, back in July last year, you wrote an article in the South China Morning Post, and you highlighted five areas where the government should improve, how they should improve the life of the Hong Kong youth. Being the education reform, to better recognize their non-academic talent, more resources for schools and students, better community support, more family support, and improve job and training opportunities. You have always been an advocate for that. Has the government listened to you?

Yip: Well, I think the government is… I am not so sure that they are listening to me, but I think they are responding to these sort of issues, one way or the other. I think we do see there are more opportunities have been provided for our young people now. And then we do see some genuine effort to improve the living accommodation, the living condition of our young people. I mean all the things are in the right track, as I said, but really to make sure that it is sustainable, it can be done effectively.

Chan: Right, going back to one of your expertise, it is in mental health. Has this been addressed in the blueprint and how big a problem is it for Hong Kong youth? Because I am sure the viewers would say mental health – what is that, you say? You are also in… and I am also very alarmed to read that, because sometimes I do listen to your lectures, that suicide is the leading cause of death for those in the 10 to 29 age group in Hong Kong. So let’s shed some light on this issue while you are on the show.

Yip: Well, we say no health without mental health, so mental health is a very essential issue. And also mental health, it does affect our young people, not only our young people, the whole community as well. Now in our young people, indeed, we have seen there is a gradual increase in suicide rate and especially among our young people. So I think we do need to see a more concerted effort to improving the mental health of our young people. So I think we have to open up this online emotional support system, it is supported by Hong Kong Jockey Club, and we have five NGOs. Then we really can see some of our young people are struggling. So we do need to give them the timely support.

Chan: Is that a sort of what we call sort of an alarming state?

Yip: It is at the… yes, I would say it is alarming because I think the rate has been increasing in the past five years and then we do not see a very genuine effort to really to improve the situation.

Chan: Right. The last issue that we will talk about before the end of the show is we must reiterate Secretary Alice’s good intention to say that inspiring young people is more important, and talking and telling the young people what to do isn’t the right thing to do. So you being here, now let’s give the viewers a quite tip – how we can help a senior or parents, how can we guide our youth so-called?

Yip: Well, I would say give them the resources, give them an environment to develop, and give them some responsibility. And then I think then we will bring the best out of our young people.

Chan: Thank you Professor Yip for coming this evening. Engaging the youth is not a simple matter, but the government is determined to tackle it. The currently high suicide rates cannot be ignored, and we all need to reach out and become beacons of light to our young people. Have a good week and good night.