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Uncertainties in Hong Kong’s public education system continue to drive up outflow

Autonomy in education matters has been promised to the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region of China (HKSAR) in the Basic Law of the city, which experienced a smooth handover from British hands to the Chinese in 1997. However, a series of systemic changes that surfaced in recent months have sparked off distrust in and discontent with the HKSAR government’s handling of its education matters from students, parents and teachers’ associations alike. Such systemic changes include the influx of Chinese students into the public university system of HKSAR; a systemic reform of the secondary school public examination replacing the Hong Kong Certificate of Education Examination (HKCEE) and the Hong Kong Advanced Level Examination (HKALE) (introduced during to the British colonial time) with the new HKDSE (Hong Kong Diploma of Secondary Education Examination); and the most recent tug of war over the introduction of a ‘Moral, Civic and National Education’ curriculum in public schools, featuring a controversial element of patriotism towards China.

This year, 73 074 candidates took part in the first HKDSE. More than 35% of them (26 431) have met the general admission requirements set out by the publicly-funded universities in the city. Together with the 18 212 candidates who participated in the HKALE (the last round) and have also met the entry requirements set out by local public universities, around 44 650 Hong Kong students eligible for higher education participation are competing for 29 600 publicly-funded first-year-first-degree places in the city. The UK, China and Taiwan - which have established arrangements to recognise the new HKDSE through their national admission systems, as well as the private institutions in the city - are all ready to attract those who do not enter the city’s eight public institutions. Nevertheless, traditional ties between the HKSAR and the UK continue to give UK universities an edge, despite the tuition fee hikes in 2012, over top Chinese institutions that are offering cheaper and potentially more relevant options to Hong Kong students today.

It will take China some more time and effort to reverse this seemingly ‘irrational’ trend by gaining trust of its HKSAR people. The recent attempt by the HKSAR government to impose a national education curriculum that sings praises of the one-party-rule ‘China Model’ has, however, proven counter-productive to this end. Tens of thousands of people from Hong Kong took to the streets on 29 July to protest against the ‘brainwashing’ of national education. With broken trust in the public education system, many parents are said to be considering the options of sending their children abroad or to expensive international schools in the city, which is already quite a trend among middle-class Hong Kongers, as well as among government officials who are in charge of public policies.

Hong Kong Examination and Assessment Authority (HKDSE results)

Hong Kong Examination and Assessment Authority (HKALE results)

The Basic Law of HKSAR

The Washington Post (Protests)