Undeterred by internal affairs — or perhaps buoyed by the open dissent — roughly 14,000 international students chose Hong Kong as a study destination this year, lifting its ranking as a student city of choice to an impressive 5th place globally, according to QS.
So how is HK evolving as both international education hub and important source market?
Hong Kong authorities have responded to concerns in recent years about a perceived shortage of international students, and the Special Administrative Region has emerged as a key supplier of educational services to foreigners, most notably from mainland China (about 65% in 2015).
Hong Kong boasts three universities in the QS Top 50. In Pok Fu Lam on Hong Kong Island is the prestigious Hong Kong University at #28; on Kowloon side is The University of Science and Technology at #40 (ranked 16th worldwide for global employability of its graduates); and on a beautiful hillside campus in the New Territories lies The Chinese University of Hong Kong (ranked #46), which teaches mostly in Mandarin.
There are five other public universities, and a host of private operators. There is, if anything, a potential for oversupply.
Rankings hold great currency in one of the most market-driven societies in the world. The former British colony now holds the coveted number one spot in Asia, surpassing traditional rival Singapore, on the grounds of safety, student diversity, affordable tuition fees and overall living standard.
The Centennial Campus of the University of Hong Kong (HKU) was recognised for its high standard reached in terms of green features and energy efficiency. Photo: HKU
Given the worsening air quality, widening income disparity, and, in particular, scarce student accommodation, this is no small achievement. “Since housing is so expensive on the island, it’s not a problem that can be easily solved,” says Rocio Blasco Garcia, a senior lecturer at Hong Kong University. “HKU built four residential colleges in three years, but demand outstrips supply and even local students are unhappy because they would like to experience hall life and many have up to a two-hour commute on a daily basis.”
On the plus side, relatively cheap living costs (in particular, food and transport), predominantly English instruction, a rich cultural life, and the city’s convenient geographic location ensure Hong Kong has remained a desirable place to study.
At the post-graduate level, government scholarships are readily available, although inflexible visa laws make it difficult for students to work legally off-campus to supplement their income.
He described his student visa as essentially ‘worthless’ in supporting his attempts to work part-time
Peter Pulsford, a British doctoral candidate at HKU who also completed two previous degrees at Hong Kong’s leading university, described his student visa as essentially ‘worthless’ in supporting his attempts to work part-time.
Fortunately, recent amendments to the Immigration Policy on Study have enabled international students to undertake paid ‘summer’ jobs and ‘on-campus’ employment of up to 20 hours per week.
Outbound student mobility is also steadily growing, as more middle-income Hong Kong households make provision for their children to attend an overseas university. These types of private, long-term investments have lasting commercial and cultural benefits for those who can afford it.