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Mapping mobility among the Chinese higher education systems – China, Hong Kong, Macau, and Taiwan

Be there one China or two Chinas, there is more than one Chinese higher education system. These systems are represented in world university rankings, such as the Academic Ranking of World Universities and the QS World University Rankings, as China, Hong Kong, and Taiwan. Together with a much smaller and new system in formation – Macau – these four Chinese higher education systems run in parallel with different degrees of interaction and/or competition among themselves.

Mobility among these independent Chinese systems rarely comes into picture in discussions about student flows into and out of China. However, in the 2012/13 academic year, with several record-high numbers reported in the student flows between the Chinese systems, it becomes clear that an increasing number of mobile Chinese students are going to study in the other Chinese systems.  This can be seen from the following application, admission and enrolment figures reported for the 2012 academic year:

  • Taiwan reported to have received 2 153 applications from Mainland Chinese students, admitted 999 and enrolled 677 this year. This represents a drop from the previous year. However, by recognizing the newly introduced Hong Kong Diploma of Secondary Education (HKDSE) as an entry qualification, it was able to receive 3 830 applications from Hong Kong students, which was nearly 5 times more than the 657 applications received last year.  It also reported to have attracted 4 300 applicants from Macau;
  • China, which also recognises the new HKDSE as an entry qualification, received 4 247 applications from Hong Kong students and admitted 971 this year;
  • Hong Kong, a system with 12 higher education institutions (HEIs; 8 publicly-funded), enrolled over 8 900 Mainland Chinese students in 2011/12, with 4 583 in undergraduate degree programmes and 4 353 in research postgraduate degree programmes. In 2012/13, 1 600 new mainland Chinese students were reported to have been admitted, largely to the public HEIs;
  • Macau, the smallest system, with five HEIs, was reported to have enrolled over 3 500 students from Mainland China this year, with 1 700 reported to have been admitted as first-year undergraduate degree students.

Most of the above numbers, circulating in the Chinese media, are not actual enrolment numbers.  Students admitted to the programmes may not turn up for registrations. Nevertheless, the dynamics observed above indicate a growing awareness and interest in regional mobility within the Chinese-speaking world, despite the significant political and ideological differences found in the different systems.

Such regional mobility tendency may be seen as a threat to the position of traditional host countries for ‘Chinese’ students, such as the United States, the United Kingdom (UK), Australia or Canada. However, if we look, for example at the number of Hong Kong applicants for UK HEIs (6 041) and at the number of students who accepted the offers (3 616) this year, the threat is perhaps not imminent.  The acceptance number shows a 26.3% increase from last year albeit the tuition fee hikes in the UK and the competing offers from China and Taiwan.

University Grants Committee, Hong Kong SAR