Universities offer scholarships to counter city exodus

Faced with an exodus from Hong Kong severely affecting the city’s school population, several Hong Kong universities have unveiled generous new scholarships for top students and set up special counselling groups to encourage students to stay in Hong Kong for higher education rather than go abroad.

Hong Kong is seeing record levels of emigration of families, particularly those with school age children, since the National Security Law was imposed on the city in July 2020. Pandemic restrictions, which have been stricter than many Western countries in the past two years, have added to the exodus.

A survey released in May by the Hong Kong Association of the Heads of Secondary Schools conducted in December 2021 found that 140 secondary schools lost nearly 4,500 pupils in the last academic year, a jump from the 2,700 reported in each of the previous two years. Schools are seeing empty seats and are amalgamating classes.

Recent figures from Hong Kong’s Education Bureau showed a total of 30,515 students of all ages had left schools in Hong Kong between October 2020 and last September, with the school population dropping from about 810,000 to 780,000. About 15,000 students left secondary schools and the exodus has continued, with withdrawals highest in summer as students leave before the new academic year.

Though declining to provide figures, universities in the city reported more students turning down offers of places, as students take up places abroad. Competition between universities in Hong Kong for the best students has increased.

Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK) this week announced that it would increase the number of scholarships for the brightest students – those with distinction-level grades in at least seven subjects in the local school-leaving exam, Hong Kong Diploma of Secondary Education (HKDSE).

It said it expects up to 740 students, out of an annual first-year undergraduate enrolment of around 3,000, to qualify for the scholarships, compared to 310 previously.

CUHK has set aside HK$19 million (US$2.4 million) for such scholarships this year – 40% more than in 2021, offering scholarship amounts on a sliding scale, depending on the number of distinctions achieved. The highest-performing students will be eligible for free tuition, an annual allowance of HK$37,900 plus a HK$80,000 grant “for more than one overseas or exchange activity”.

The university in the past offered a HK$62,100 grant per year and HK$30,000 for overseas exchanges.

The number of students to quit their studies at Hong Kong’s eight government-funded universities in the 2020-21 academic year jumped by a record 24% compared to the year before, according to official figures from the city’s University Grants Commission.

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