“Education is a way of getting citizenship abroad, which people see as insurance if things get worse,” one agent, who asked to remain anonymous due to working in both Hong Kong and on the mainland, told The PIE News.
And there has been a huge increase in Hong Kongers taking IELTS tests with the British Council, a test used for entry into English language higher education courses, The PIE News has learned.
“In terms of the IELTS… in the month of September 2019, there was a 50% increase in test takers of all ages compared with September 2018,” Aideen McLaughlin of the British Council in Hong Kong revealed.
“Education is a way of getting citizenship abroad, which people see as insurance if things get worse”
Managing director of consultancy Britannia StudyLink Samuel Chan said it was an “upsetting moment for Hong Kong”, and the situation was making a considerable impact on his business, which specialises in sending students to boarding schools in the UK.
“The general consensus is that most people are now looking to study abroad if they can afford it. Many people are now shifting their assets abroad,” he said.
“Parents, if they can afford it, will send their children abroad. The demand has increased, I feel, by almost double.”
“The only issue, because we do boarding school placement, schools are unlikely to be able to increase beds and quotas immediately. For our business it’s not actually fantastically amazing, [but] it’s good,” Chan added.
Hong Kong has previously seen surges in citizens studying abroad in response to changes in the education system.
In 2014, the number of Hong Kong students in the UK grew by 20%, attributed to a dislike of the new diploma system that replaced A-levels.
Mainland China has been making overtures to Hong Kong students – although it is unlikely to be a popular choice of destination – by extending the number of institutions that can accept Hong Kong qualifications to 122.
“Compared with 2019, an additional 11 institutions offering various programs will be participating in the scheme,” explained a spokesperson for the Education Bureau in Hong Kong.
UCAS in the UK received 1,340 applications from Hong Kong for October deadline courses, although this does not represent a significant change in terms of trends over the last few years. Information on the total number of applications will not be available until after applications close on January 15, 2020.
Aside from traditional study destinations, Taiwan has also seen an increase in popularity.
The National University of Taiwan reported a 20% increase in applicants from Hong Kong compared to last year, totalling almost 500.
National Sun Yat-Sen University in Taiwan’s southern city of Kaohsiung also reported receiving 10 applications from Hong Kong professors to become visiting scholars.
Taiwan – which China claims as part of its own territory – has grappled over the last year with how to deal with those fleeing to its shores from China and Hong Kong, including students who vandalised the Legislative Council building in July, due to its lack of refugee laws.
As far as those seeking to continue their studies are concerned however, the doors are open.
“Regardless of whether they are from Taiwan or not, university students in Hong Kong whose studies have been interrupted by the protests are welcome to register with a number of our universities here if they want to continue their studies,” the island’s Ministry of Education told the South China Morning Post last month.
According to data from UNESCO, 36,442 Hong Kong students are studying abroad at present.
Those in the UK account for the largest number with 16,580, followed by Australia (9,186), the US (7,508) and Canada (2,037).
Less significant numbers of students also study in nearby Macau, South Korea, Germany and Ireland.