Photo/Jason Sutter©

Money may not be everything when it comes to job satisfaction. Though many switch to higher paying jobs, there are some who contend that other motivational drivers are more important than monetary compensation.

Vice–chancellor of the University of Hong Kong (HRU) Peter Mathieson has resigned to take up a job offer with Edinburgh University, a leading educational institution in Scotland.

The shocking news to academic and political circles came when he revealed that he would be getting a significantly big pay cut in his new post – from HK$5.8 million a year to about HK$3 million a year.

He is leaving two years before his contract ends with HKU. And his premature resignation has raised concerns from academics and students over the future of HKU.

Among the speculations on his decision was that the political complexity of the job could be too overwhelming, forcing him to want to get out quickly. It came amid allegations of political interference in academic freedom at the premier university.

The academic at the centre of the promotion row, Johannes Chan Man-mun, expressed surprise at Mathieson’s resignation and said, “It came as a surprise. A concern is the appointment f the next president.”

HKU council chairman Professor Arthur Li Kwok-cheung commended Mathieson for his leadership in the university.

“Peter has laid the foundation for the strategic development over the next 10 years of the university,” Li said.

Leaving for “personal reasons” 

Peter Mathieson, who once described the vice-chancellorship of the city’s oldest university as the “best job” he had ever held, wrote in an email to colleagues, students and alumni that he was leaving for “personal reasons”, but stressed there would be “no loss of momentum at HKU” in the years ahead.

“Perhaps most satisfyingly of all, repeatedly during the last three years we have articulated, promoted and defended the university’s core principles during a period of unprecedented political complexity in Hong Kong, ensuring that our students and staff can continue to flourish in an environment that respects their freedom of speech: long may this continue,” he said.

The former dean of the University of Bristol’s medicine and dentistry faculty joined HKU in April 2014, five months before the outbreak of the 79-day pro-democracy Occupy protests.  This time he will be taking the helm at a globally prestigious institution.

“There are very few universities in the world that could have tempted me to leave HKU but Edinburgh is one of them,” Mathieson added.

The Education Bureau respected the resignation as a personal decision by Mathieson. “Appointment of presidents is a matter within the autonomy of the universities, for which the government has every respect,” a spokesman said.

HR professionals have mixed views

Adam Johnston, managing director at Robert Half Hong Kong, pointed out that although money generally remains the main motivating factor for professionals to change jobs, some can be convinced to change jobs even if they’re offered a lower salary.

“Sometimes the non-financial incentives, job content or career progression opportunities can be more rewarding than higher remuneration,” he said.

“Factors such as lifestyle benefits, more/different responsibilities, an attractive relocation, flexible working arrangements, lower/higher workload or less stakeholders to manage can be enough to attract someone to a lower paying job.”

Siddharth Suhas, regional director for Hudson Hong Kong and Guangzhou, cited two reasons headhunters may approach a prospective employee for a position that offers a lower pay.

First, he said it happens during the interview when a candidate has expressly indicated that other elements of a role/opportunity are of a higher priority to him/her besides salary.

The second scenario occurs when a candidate may not possess some skills or experience required for a new sector that he intends to join. The candidate indicates a keenness to learn and considers it a personal investment to build his career in a new industry.

“Other than these reasons, headhunters do not typically approach candidates for roles where there is a big variance in the offered package and what they currently receive,” Suhas said.



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