Hong Kong Universities Welcoming Mainland Students

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New Visa Policies Will Help Hong Kong Become a Regional Hub for Higher Education

THE HONG KONG GOVERNMENT has relaxed immigration controls on mainland students Homing to Hong Kong for university study starting in September 2005. This is a key stroke in building Hong Kong as a regional hub for higher education. Rapid expansion of self-financed Thainland students may become for Hong Kong's universities what the individual travel scheme has been for Hong Kong's retail and tourism sector. These students will likely raise academic standards, diversify perspectives in the Hong Kong student body, and enhance Hong Kong as a key link in a supply chain of young talent linking Greater China to the world.

One of the Most Open Higher Education Markets in the World

The government's recent action will reduce barriers to mainland students in several ways. Undergraduate programs funded by government will have a collective quota of 10 percent of total enrollment or nonlocal students (4 percent of funded positions and 6 percent for self-financed students). More importantly, there will be no quotas for self-financed programs at postgraduate or subdegree levels. Part-time programs can also admit mainland students. Nonlocal students can enjoy multiple entries to Hong Kong and extend their stay or change academic programs once enrolled for study there. Mainland graduates from Hong Kong degree programs can reenter Hong Kong to take up work. Hong Kong and the mainland have agreed to the mutual recognition of academic degrees, and Hong Kong universities have begun to participate in the mainland's National Colleges and Universities Enrollment System. Recruitment activities on the mainland by Hong Kong universities for fall 2005 entrance are in full swing.1

These relaxation policies will not diminish the number of funded undergraduate positions for Hong Kong students in local universities. Rather, it sets the stage for growth and diversification for Hong Kong's universities, especially in self-financed, associate degree and taught postgraduate programs. Even as more individual students will come to Hong Kong (inbound mode) to attend universities here, Hong Kong universities are also joining partnerships in the mainland to offer their degree programs (outbound mode) adapted to the demands of the market for higher education in the mainland.

We have come a long way from the handover in 1997 when higher education was generally considered to be on the "two-systems" side of the one-country two-systems equation. Then the main concern was whether the mainland would seek to exercise political or managerial influence over Hong Kong universities. This did not happen. Hong Kong's higher education resources continued to focus on educating young people to enter the Hong Kong workforce. The Jockey Club funded a successful scholarship scheme to bring several hundred undergraduates from the mainland each year to Hong Kong universities for degrees, and many graduate programs began to recruit highly talented students from the mainland. In these initiatives, Hong Kong was the donor. Institutionally, Hong Kong universities emphasized building relationships with just a few top-tier academic institutions in China.

By 2003, however, Hong Kong universities began to face serious budget cuts as the government acted to curtail its deficit. Many subdegree and graduate programs were phased into a self-financed basis. The government promoted self-financed higher education programs through subsidies and student loans for continuing education programs of universities and private agencies. Tung Chee Hwa announced in 2001 that by 2010,60 percent of secondary school graduates in Hong Kong would have opportunities for further education. As universities felt the pinch of government cutbacks, the supply of new private places in Hong Kong had grown possibly even faster than local demand for them. Although this target seemed ambitious at the time, new educational capacity in this sector has grown so fast that, by 2004, Hong Kong had already reached about 53 percent of the relevant age group going into postsecondary programs. …