Rising lure from north for higher education

Editorial | Mary Ma 20 Dec 2017

Most Hong Kong secondary school leavers would prefer to study at one of the universities at home, while others with the financial means may opt for one of the native English-speaking places like Britain, Australia, Canada, or the United States.

Nonetheless, there's a growing trend for people to head north to study at one of the mainland universities.

Political ideology aside, China is undeniably a rising economic power that will assert greater global influence over the years to come. There's also the Belt and Road initiative to consider. So, the argument goes that listing a mainland university in a CV could give one an edge later on in life.

Riding on this trend, Beijing is beefing up its investment in SAR youngsters, boosting scholarship money for Chinese students from outside the mainland by 15 million yuan (HK$17.76 million) a year, to provide a few hundred more scholarship places at more than 100 mainland universities.

For the rich country, the extra sum is mere chump change.

However, it's baffling the State Council's Hong Kong and Macao Affairs Office finds it necessary to set a precondition that the applicants must love the motherland and support the "one country, two systems" constitutional arrangement for the SAR.

Is it because it think our students are unpatriotic, so they're including a condition that is previously unheard of?

Secondly, does it mean Beijing has no faith in the youngsters here? Then how can it ensure an applicant's declaration isn't just lip service?

But the additional requirement would be unlikely to create a new hurdle for locals applying to study at mainland universities.

The reasons are more practical than ideological. Except for a handful of the prestigious Chinese universities at the top of the chart, the entrance requirements are generally based on local Diploma of Secondary Education exam results, which are simply application-friendly for many who are shut out of Hong Kong universities, despite meeting their minimum admission criteria.

Meanwhile, the lower living cost at mainland campuses is another attraction.

It's natural that pragmatism is driving more students to head for the mainland. At present, an estimated 15,000 Hong Kong students are pursuing higher education up north. Past official figures also revealed a steady rise in related applications. In 2015, more than 3,500 of the 62,200 secondary school leavers applied to study in the mainland, compared to only about 520 in 2006.

Currently, more than half apply to study at tertiary institutions in Guangdong, with a very small number winning acceptance to top institutions like Tsinghua and Peking universities, both located in Beijing.

Many Hongkongers may not know the mainland's higher-education sector is growing tremendously, as they spare no efforts to win world recognition. So there are surely opportunities for our youths to explore.

Scholarships are nice to have, but not a must. Instead, students should focus on subjects that interest them if they plan to go north.

Undoubtedly, the trend will continue.

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