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On 15 January, Hong Kong’s Chief Executive C.Y. Leung announced in his second Policy Address numerous new plans to diversity higher education participation paths, including two schemes to subsidise outgoing degree-seeking students. The first one is A Mainland University Study Subsidy Scheme, which intends to subsidise Hong Kong students pursuing full-degree studies in 70 selected Mainland Chinese universities participating in China’s Scheme for the Admission of Hong Kong Students to Mainland Higher Education Institutions. Beneficiaries of the scheme may each receive a means-tested grant of up to HK$ 15 000 (EUR 1 500) per year during their studies (i.e. EUR 6 000 for a typical four-year Bachelor’s programme in China). The second one is a merit-based scholarship scheme to support Hong Kong students to pursue full-degree studies in ‘renowned universities’ outside Hong Kong. The beneficiaries may each receive a scholarship of up to HK$ 250 000 (EUR 25 000) per year, or more with an additional means-tested bursary of up to HK$ 200 000 (EUR 20 000) per year for students in need. The first means-tested scheme is not subject to any quota, while the second scheme is limited to benefit only 100 students per cohort. Both of the two schemes will initially serve three cohorts of students and be subject to reviews after the trial period.
According to the latest data available from the UNESCO Institute for Statistics, 32 251 out of the total 32 842 outgoing degree-seeking students from Hong Kong (i.e. 98 %) were found in Australia (38.5 %), the UK (30 %), the US (24 %), and Canada (5.5 %). Such a strong outflow of degree-seeking students was largely the result of insufficient study places in local public universities. Since 1994-95, the number of publicly-funded first-year first-degree study places at Bachelor’s level has been capped at 15 000 (see ACA Newsletter – Education Europe, December 2011), which is 30-40% of all the students attaining the minimum general entrance requirements for higher education in a normal year. The new subsidy schemes, however, are unlikely to bring significant changes to the above described outflows or benefit this subset of student population. The vast majority of those self-financed students currently studying in the four English-speaking countries are with middle-class backgrounds and are less academically competitive than those admitted to local universities. With the current design of the schemes, the means-tested scheme will likely benefit the 75 000 self-financed sub-degree/degree students currently sustaining Hong Kong’s private tertiary education sector, whereas the merit-based schemes will likely compete with the local universities for top talent.
The newly announced higher education policy marked a 180-degree shift in Hong Kong’s earlier ambition to develop itself into an education hub. Although not clearly stated in the Policy Address, the absence of a concrete plan, again, for Queen’s Hill (a 16.4-hectare site earmarked for establishing a world-class private university since 2011/12) indicated that the land will be used for other ‘even more urgent needs’, currently public housing. The Society of Jesus (founder of numerous American liberal arts colleges like Georgetown and Boston College), as well as the University of Aberdeen and Edinburgh Napier University in Scotland, who saw themselves as the strongest competitors for the land, were once again disappointed. Nevertheless, the Society of Jesus has reportedly decided to go ahead with the plan, though at a smaller scale, under the help of its Hong Kong alumni. Hong Kong is not new to the Jesuit church. Since early 1920s, it has been running two prestigious local secondary schools (Wah Yan Colleges), which can readily feed the type of students that the private university is planned for.Hong Kong - 2014 Policy Address Hong Kong - 2011-12 Policy Address UIS - Global Flow of Tertiary-Level Students