The number of students from mainland China applying to Hong Kong universities has risen to an all-time high at the same time as the numbers applying to universities in the United States and Australia have dropped, according to recently released figures.
Hong Kong’s University Grants Committee (UGC) said 8,622 students from mainland China were enrolled in undergraduate programmes in Hong Kong’s eight publicly funded universities in the 2021-22 academic year – a record number, and up 13% compared to 2020-21, the academic year after application figures were affected by the 2019 turmoil in the streets of Hong Kong and the 2020 outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic from March of that year.
Universities in Hong Kong and education consultancies in China that specialise in study abroad have noted record inquiries and applications to Hong Kong universities in the first half of the year, which could mean another spike in applications.
Indicator of confidence
With caps on overseas student numbers, applications do not necessarily translate into enrolments, but are a major indicator of confidence in Hong Kong, which is seeing a major exodus of its own population since the imposition of the National Security Law in Hong Kong in July 2020.
Undergraduate and taught postgraduate foreign student numbers, including students from the mainland, are capped at 20% of the student body at Hong Kong’s publicly funded universities, and limited to 10% of the student body at private universities in Hong Kong. However, research postgraduate numbers, which are not capped for overseas and mainland students, have also seen a huge rise from China.
For example, applications from China for research-based graduate programmes for 2022-23 at Hong Kong University of Science and Technology (HKUST) have already seen a 40% rise compared to 2021-22, according to the university.
“All universities, including public and also the private universities, in Hong Kong in this academic year have received more applications for both undergraduate and postgraduate programmes,” said Joshua Ka-Ho Mok, vice-president of Hong Kong’s Lingnan University, who has surveyed the study abroad intentions of mainland students.
Lingnan University, one of Hong Kong’s smaller liberal arts institutions, this year received 24 applications for every place available to mainland students, Mok said. For some masters programmes at Lingnan, applications from the mainland have more than doubled compared to last year, he told University World News.
“Here at Lingnan, we find the quality of mainland applications has improved compared to the years before. I saw many applications coming from China mainland students who went overseas for their undergraduate programme and they come back to Hong Kong (for graduate studies) before they return to China for a job. So we are also seeing these returnees from overseas universities.”
In his own classes, Mok observed that “the English levels of mainland China students and the way they present themselves is much better than the year before”.
Applications to top universities
A spokesperson at the University of Hong Kong (HKU) said the university had received over 15,000 applications from mainland students this year, making entry to one of the top-ranked universities in Asia extremely competitive. For 2021-22, around 3,975 students from the mainland were enrolled at HKU.
“We are glad to see the number and academic quality of students from the mainland and from overseas applying to HKU for the 2022 intake have increased significantly. All the students have achieved outstanding results in major examinations including the gaokao [China’s national college entrance exam], International Baccalaureate [IB] and GCE A-levels,” the spokesperson said.
“The increase in the number of mainland and overseas applicants reflects not only the confidence of students in Hong Kong education and HKU, but also their eagerness to engage in the innovation and technology industries,” the HKU spokesperson said, noting the popularity of programmes such as engineering, business, as well as the new big-data-related programmes.
A spokesperson at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology (HKUST) told University World News: “The Hong Kong University of Science and Technology has seen a constant increase in the number of applications from both mainland Chinese and international students for undergraduate programmes over the past two years. The jump in the number of non-gaokao student applications since 2020 is particularly high – reaching over 376%,” but she noted that this is subject to the 20% cap for non-Hong Kong students.