Doubling Non-local Student Quota to 40%: Boost in Global Appeal or Local Concern?

In the Policy Address delivered on October 25 by Chief Executive John Lee Ka-chiu, several measures were outlined to position Hong Kong as an “international higher education hub”. One of these measures includes increasing the admission cap for non-local students at eight government-funded universities from the current 20% of funded places to 40%.

Chief Executive John Lee at the press conference for the ‘2023 Policy Address’ on October 25th (Image: Hong Kong Government Press Release)

The last time Hong Kong increased the university admission quota for non-local students was in 2008, when then-Chief Executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen elevated the quota from 10% to the current 20%. According to documents previously submitted to the Legislative Council by the Education Bureau, in the 21/22 academic year, there were about 13,000 non-local students enrolled in funded bachelor’s degree programs, accounting for 18% of the University Grants Committee (UGC) funded places.

If the number of funded places remains unchanged, with the proposed increase of the non-local student admission cap to 40%, the number of non-local students will rise to nearly 30,000.

Local Students Fear Increased Competition for Local Quota

Although the government emphasizes that the increase in quota will not affect the funded places for local students in Hong Kong, as non-local students will pay the full tuition fee, concerns and anxiety still loom among many local students regarding the influx of a large number of non-local students, particularly those from the mainland.

Currently, the tuition fee charged by funded institutions to non-local undergraduate students ranges from around HKD 140,000 to 180,000 annually, while local students are charged HKD 42,000 per year.

University of Hong Kong’s Red Walls on Thursday, November 2, 2023. For the academic year 2023-2024, the University of Hong Kong (HKU) charges tuition fees of HK$42,100 per annum for local students and HK$182,000 per annum for non-local students in government-funded full-time programs. (Photo: Susu Cai)

A scholar, who wished to remain anonymous, voiced criticism towards this policy during an interview with Times Higher Education. They believe that the demand from mainland China will be robust regardless, which could potentially have adverse impacts on local students.

Mainland students will flock to study in Hong Kong, and an unintended consequence is that local students may find it more difficult to gain admission to top UGC-funded universities,” he said, adding that many might be forced to pursue their studies in mid-to-low tier institutions.

“The government’s sudden desire to relax the quota to 40% will lead to unforeseen consequences,” he warned.

This anxiety stems not only from the perceived usurpation of admission opportunities by non-local students, but also from the increased competition anticipated in the future job market. The concern is further exacerbated by another policy unveiled by the Hong Kong government, allowing “full-time non-local postgraduate students to engage in part-time work starting from November,” thereby intensifying the apprehension.

“With this new policy, there’s a concern that some non-local students might be more willing to accept lower hourly wages and overtime work, making it harder for local students like myself to secure part-time positions,” expressed Chan Ka-Yan, a year 3 BBA student at the University of Hong Kong.

Local Students Question if University Facilities Can Cope

The move to admit more non-local students is poised to exacerbate the already serious issue of insufficient dormitory spaces at various universities in Hong Kong. A local student from CUHK, Wong Ting Yuk, expressed concern over the Hong Kong government’s policy to increase the intake of foreign students, pinpointing that the most apparent problem in the future would be the impact on the accommodation allocation rights of local students.

With limited dormitory spaces, non-local students have ‘extra points’ in their favor when applying for dorms, reducing the chances of local students getting a dorm spot,” pointed out Wong Ting Yuk.

In an interview with Times Higher Education, Li Huan, a doctoral researcher at the Faculty of Education at the University of Hong Kong (HKU), stated, “Hong Kong’s universities can no longer guarantee housing for all local students,” most of whom commute, he said.

University of Hong Kong Swire Hall Dormitory on Thursday, November 2, 2023 (Photo: Susu Cai)

However, there are students and faculty members who hold different opinions on this issue. Mo Xiao Xiao, a student from Guangxi, China, studying at the Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK), explained that although non-local students have an advantage when it comes to dormitory allocation, the specific distribution still depends on the students’ overall performance at the university.

As a non-local student, I find that among my peers, only a minority have been able to secure dormitory spots on campus,” Mo said.

Legislative Council Election Committee member Chow Man Kong, who also serves as the Associate Vice President (University Advancement) at the Education University, agrees with the increase in the admission cap for non-local students and even suggests considering a raise to 50%, to be further relaxed in phases.

Legislative Council Election Committee member Chow Man Kong serves as the Associate Vice President (University Advancement) at the Education University. (Image: Legislative Council Press Release)

He points out that universities generally conduct lectures in auditoriums which can easily accommodate the growth in student numbers. “Even for lab-based classes, the completion of new teaching and research buildings in various universities over the past five years can handle the increase in student numbers,” he remarked.

More International Students or More Mainland Students?

According to data from the government’s statistical department, among non-local students, those from China constitute the largest proportion. As per the data for the academic year 21/22, out of the 13,000 non-local students, about 65% are from China. In the 22/23 academic year, the number of non-local students (bachelor’s degree and postgraduate courses) enrolled in funded programs in Hong Kong is nearly 22,000, with 75% coming from China; almost 22% from other parts of Asia; and less than 4% from other regions.

Non-local student enrolment of UGC-funded programmes by place of origin from 2016/17 to 2022/23 (Image: Hong Kong Government Statistical Department)
Non-local student enrolment of UGC-funded programmes from 2016/17 to 2022/23 (Image: Hong Kong Government Statistical Department)

Former higher education sector election committee member and former associate professor of applied social sciences at City University, Tse Wing Ling, in an interview with “Initium Media”, mentioned that the proportion of international students is one of the factors for universities to enhance their reputation, and recruiting international students is a reasonable practice. However, he pointed out that local universities cleverly label “international students” as “non-local students”, with the majority being students from China, and rhetorically asked, “Is this ‘internationalization’ or ‘mainlandization’?”

Regarding the government’s aim to attract talent, Tse also questioned its effectiveness, stating, “Many mainland students see Hong Kong as a ‘springboard’ for further education. After completing their undergraduate or master’s degrees in Hong Kong, they pursue further education abroad, and may not necessarily stay in Hong Kong.”

On the issue of how to entice students to stay in Hong Kong post-graduation, legislator Chow Man Kong believes that career fairs and recruitment events for overseas students should begin even before graduation, allowing them to see the opportunities for development in Hong Kong.

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“Especially as the mainland middle class is rising, students should understand that staying in Hong Kong for development can also cater to the mainland market; with Hong Kong’s freedom of entry, exit, and capital flow, they can use Hong Kong as a base to facilitate trade exchanges between their hometowns and the mainland,” Chow suggested.

Feature Image Caption: University Street at the University of Hong Kong, Thursday, November 2, 2023. (Photo: Susu Cai)

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