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Hong Kong Universities Gain in Popularity with Chinese Students

Hong Kong universities are attracting top mainland high school graduates with lucrative stipends, an education system meeting international standards, and better job prospects.

College entrance exams in China began on June 7 this year. To many hopeful parents, this marks a great milestone in their children’s careers. According to national statistics, the number of high school students taking the exams in China is around 10.1 million, vying for 5.67 million enrollment spots in all Chinese universities—both figures record highs. Apart from Tsinghua and Beijing University though, this time Hong Kong universities have become a new hot favorite for Chinese students.

According to national surveys, 65.53 percent of applicants and parents are inclined to apply to Hong Kong universities, surpassing that of most, if not all, popular universities in China. The taunt "Hong Kong University will make Beijing University and Tsinghua University into second-class universities" was even seen on the web. In 2006, even though all the Hong Kong universities accounted for only 2,000 available spots, they received more than 30,000 "first choice" applications from China.

New Enrollment Procedure for Hong Kong Universities

In 2007, besides the eight Hong Kong universities from last year, four other universities—Hong Kong Shue Yan University, The Open University of Hong Kong, The Hong Kong Academy for Performing Arts, and Chu Hai College of Higher Education—have also joined the ranks in admitting students from China.

Chen Xiuye, Beijing high school examination top scholar with a score of 687, was admitted by Tsinghua University and Hong Kong Technological University. After careful consideration, he chose the latter. Liu Yang, top scholar from Guangdong Province, also gave up Fudan for Hong Kong Technological University. Li Yang, top scholar from Hainan City, was admitted into Hong Kong City University after moving home resulted in his being rejected by Tsinghua University. Such stories have abounded within Chinese education circles over recent years.

In response to attacks from the Chinese media of "stealing the elite," Hong Kong universities have decided to offer pre-enrollment for applicants from China, and they have also modified their admission criteria. Instead of only recruiting those that place Hong Kong universities as their first choice, they have decided to offer pre-enrollment, before mainland Chinese universities. Ten universities, including Hong Kong University, Hong Kong Technological University, and Hong Kong Institute of Technology, have also begun independent admission procedures. Students enrolled in these universities will also not be considered by Chinese universities. Analysts believe that this was arranged to prevent Hong Kong universities from being labeled as "stealing the elite" from mainland universities.

The Attraction of Hong Kong Universities

Last year, more than 10 percent of high school applicants from the renowned People’s University Affiliated High School in Beijing chose Hong Kong universities as their top choices. To them, Beijing University and Tsinghua University located right down the block are no longer much of an enticement. The greater attraction comes from Hong Kong universities due to their flexible admission criteria, hefty scholarships, new education system, and better prospects for future development.
Hong Kong Chinese University alone is offering 100 full scholarships out of the 250 positions it will fill. The scholarships include four years of tuition, a residence, and stipends totaling more than HKD$500,000(US$64,900). Hong Kong City University is also providing more than HKD$320,000(US$41,000) worth of scholarships to attract students. Xue Mingyu from Shenzhen, even though he was offered admission to Beijing University after winning the gold medal in an international chemistry competition, decided to apply to Hong Kong University. He said, "I don’t think Beijing University is not as good as Hong Kong University, but if they pay for my school fees and even give me a stipend, why would I not go there instead?"

Of course, this mostly applies to the elite. For the majority of mainland Chinese parents, decades of devoted saving is necessary to provide their children an opportunity to survive in the grueling Chinese society.

On the other hand, some students like Hong Kong for its education system. An English education and flexible credits, as well as more up-to-date education materials, are some of the reasons many students are attracted.

In reality, most people treat a Hong Kong education as a springboard for higher education or even residency in Hong Kong. According to statistics by Hong Kong City University, 67 percent of mainland Chinese students remain in Hong Kong or travel overseas for higher education after graduation. The best have traveled to Columbia, Princeton, MIT, and many other top institutions, and others have found jobs with Microsoft, Citibank, MetLife, and other major corporations.

Chinese Students in Hong Kong

To the mainland student, it is no easy task to study in Hong Kong. Besides language, a new culture and other factors, independence is another big challenge for them. Some Hong Kong professors have even proclaimed that mainland Chinese students are only good at nothing but taking examinations.

Many mainland Chinese media have reported cases of students unable to assimilate to their new life in Hong Kong: "They never participate in any social clubs or faculty events, they do not mingle with local students, and everyday after school they would rush home to play computer games. After four years, they are only comfortable within their small social circle and have made no improvement whatsoever in their Cantonese and English skills."

Some students have even been expelled. Tan Heyin, Vice-President of Hong Kong Technology University, gave the example of a student from Shanghai who was expelled after making three C minus’ in a row. "Simply getting the letter of admission is no guarantee of graduation."

The CCP Influence on Hong Kong Campuses
In general, Hong Kong media have been rather indifferent to recruiting mainland students. Hong Kong special columnist Shen Yuan once declared during an interview that "it is not a good thing" for mainland Chinese students to come to Hong Kong due to the backward education and culture in mainland China, and more importantly, how the CCP Party Culture might be exported.

Not long ago, Hong Kong media reported a 25-year-old female PhD student who inserted HKD $10,000(US$1,280) worth of cash in a professor’s mailbox in exchange for good grades. Not only did this shock the entire Hong Kong education world, it raised many doubts on the social benefits of recruiting mainland students.

Secondly, Hong Kong universities have found that many of its admitted students are also members of the Communist Youth League. Silently, they have crept into leadership positions in Hong Kong university student unions. Many university leaders are worried that these CCP youth members will try to erase memories of the Tiananmen Massacre and democracy in Hong Kong student communities.

Wang Anran, former Professor at Hong Kong Chinese University and critic, describes that it is already an open secret that CCP spies have infiltrated Hong Kong university campuses—especially graduate students dispatched years ago. He said that they all have very special backgrounds and some have been well-trained by the CCP. He gave the example of a former classmate, Wang Zhenmin, current Associate Dean at the Faculty of Law in Tsinghua University.

"The CCP will definitely use the Hong Kong universities as a way to infiltrate Hong Kong so as to service them. I caution Hong Kong universities in admitting Chinese students to Hong Kong."

Education Problems at Home

Wu Daqi, Associate Dean at the School of Science, Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, believes that there are a whole series of problems with mainland Chinese high schools. "If you go on the Internet, you can see that over the past few years, many Chinese schools have had crazy problems with research. Some professors even skip lectures. Many people are discontented with mainland institutions of higher learning, yet they use this to attack Hong Kong universities."

Renowned Chinese mathematician Qiu Chengtong also criticizes the mainland Chinese system. "Most institutions of higher learning in China are just in it for the money. They just want the funds and never bother about real research. There are just too many incidents of bribery and corruption in Chinese institutions—whether they are well known professors, fellows, or students, they’re not ashamed of these things at all."

To this end, many Chinese students sense an entirely different atmosphere in Hong Kong. On May 4, 2007, students from 10 Hong Kong universities offered flowers for the brave Chinese students who gave their lives for the betterment of China during the May 4, 1919, and June 4, 1989, incidents.
Some analysts believe that the admission heat in Hong Kong universities is a battle between two opposing education systems. Tao Jie, social critic in Hong Kong, believes that after these mainland Chinese elite come to Hong Kong, they can freely read Apple Daily, Easy Finder, Southern Weekly, and many other papers banned in mainland China.

One PhD student, surnamed Li who came to Hong Kong to study describes that his biggest joy in coming Hong Kong is to be able to read and express himself freely. "The Tiananmen Massacre, Falun Gong, and many other issues have all been censored in mainland China." He recalls many mainland Chinese family and friends encouraging him to read banned books and papers in Hong Kong, and he has already become a window to the outside world for his entire family.

Can Sun is a correspondent for Chinascope.