Study abroad for Hong Kong students in China slated

A scheme to allow Hong Kong students to attend universities in mainland China without taking part in the competitive national entrance examination, the gaokao, is to be extended to more Chinese institutions despite criticisms that their degrees are not recognised for many jobs in Hong Kong’s public sector.

Almost 1,000 Hong Kong students were able to attend any of 63 universities in mainland China this year under a scheme announced in August 2011 during a visit to Hong Kong by China’s Vice-premier Li Keqiang as part of his ‘basket of gifts’ to boost ties between Beijing and Hong Kong.

The scheme will now be expanded to a total of 70 mainland institutions, after China’s Ministry of Education this week announced that seven prestigious universities – including Tsinghua, Remin, Nanjing, Zhejiang, Xi’an Jiaotong and Shanghai Jiaotong – would be allowed to recruit a proportion of their students independently of the gaokao.

They join others including the universities of Peking, Tianjin, Shanghai, Guangdong, Jiangsu, Zhejiang and Yunnan, and a number of medical schools, fine arts institutions and music conservatoires, that participated under last year’s scheme.

Mainland universities accepting Hong Kong students are entitled to a government subsidy of around 8,000 yuan (US$1,250) per student per year, according to the official Xinhua news agency.

But in a heated debate in Hong Kong’s semi-autonomous legislature this week, legislator Kenneth Chan of the Civic Party said the Hong Kong government had taken up Beijing’s offer in a “shoe-shining” move without considering students’ interests.

Degrees from mainland China do not qualify holders to apply for jobs in Hong Kong’s public administration, and may also be a disadvantage in some private sector jobs.

Hong Kong Undersecretary for Education Kevin Yeung was quoted in the South China Morning Post as saying that mainland degrees were assessed “on a case by case basis”. But he confirmed that degrees obtained through the mainland scheme would require “additional verification” before being recognised for local government job applications.

Many Hong Kong public administration jobs are well paid and sought after.

Legislators insisted during a panel meeting this week that the Hong Kong authorities were responsible for ensuring students had fair chance for such jobs, otherwise it would be like luring students “into a trap” where they obtained a sub-standard degree.

The scheme has been welcomed by the Hong Kong authorities as a way of relieving pressure on Hong Kong’s universities at a time when the higher education system is changing from a three-year degree system – a legacy of British colonial rule, which ended in 1997 – to a four-year degree system, leading to a double cohort on many Hong Kong campuses this academic year.

Many of Hong Kong’s universities have had to put emergency measures in place, including extended teaching hours, to deal with the higher numbers, and have been leasing temporary teaching and student hostel space to ease overcrowding.