Hong Kong Universities are Losing China's Top Students

Hong Kong Universities are Losing China's Top Students
飽受高考制度煎熬的學生步出考場,如釋重擔,喜出望外。Photo Credit: Reuters / 達志影像

What you need to know

Political instability and sliding university rankings are to blame as China's top students turn away from Hong Kong, a report says.

The number of elite Chinese tertiary students in Hong Kong has started to slide, as Chinese universities climb international rankings and political instability has Chinese parents worrying about safety in Hong Kong.

A feature in the Hong Kong-based The Initium has found that the decline in the number of Chinese applicants to Hong Kong universities began in 2014. The number of Chinese applicants to the University of Hong Kong (HKU) reached its peak in 2013, with more than 12,000 applicants. Last year, 9,400 students applied.

Similarly, Chinese applicants to the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology (HKUST) and Hong Kong Polytechnic University (HKPU) peaked in 2013, but decreased in 2014 and 2015.

According to The Initium, between 2011 and 2013, Hong Kong universities accepted 54 of China's top students – students who had achieved the highest grades for their region in China’s university entrance exams.

This reportedly prompted Chinese universities to improve their performance, and top Chinese institutions such as Peking University and Tsinghua University have since 2015 ranked higher than HKU and HKUST on the QS World Rankings and the Times Higher Education Report.

One student from Shanghai, Li Ruojing (李若靜, an alias), was accepted by both HKU and Peking University. She told The Initium that even though HKU was more international and that courses were taught in English, she chose to enroll in Peking University because the science field courses were more in-depth, and job opportunities in China are increasing.

“The Mainland [China] is developing faster these days, and since I intend to work in Shanghai, studying here is more beneficial for developing a network,” Li said.

Another reason for the decreasing number of Chinese students at Hong Kong universities is the uncertain political climate, Yu Zhuliang (俞諸亮), a recruiter from Shanghai High School, told The Initium.

After the Umbrella Movement in 2014 and the Mong Kok "riot" earlier this year, parents are worried about the safety of their children in Hong Kong, Yu said.

Chinese students can apply for permanent residency in Hong Kong after living in the city for seven years, but some graduates who are already working in the city are uncertain about staying.

Zheng Yan (鄭妍) graduated from HKU’s prestigious International Business and Global Management (IBGM) program, and is now a senior director at Sino Group, a leading property company in Hong Kong.

“I used to think I would still be in Hong Kong 20 years later, but now I think I might apply for an MBA program in the U.S. or Europe once I have enough experience,” Zheng told The Initium.

For these Chinese top students, China’s quick expansion means more opportunities for future development. One parent told The Initium, “Hong Kong used to be the gateway to the world for China’s business development, but now that China is more open to international businesses, Hong Kong’s importance has diminished.”

First Editor: Olivia Yang
Second Editor: Edward White