Friday, February 21, 2014, 10:20
Focus HK: The brain drain
By Hazel Knowles

Tough choices

This is something Tim Gutsell, director of the International Office of the University of Essex, says he and his fellow exhibitors at Education UK are aware of.

“For some students, the UK is not the first choice and we need to be realistic about this,” said Gutsell.

“A lot of the people I see would much rather go to a university in Hong Kong but they know there is an undersupply of places.”

This undersupply of university places makes it particularly tough for students, says Jarvis.

“There is, on average, a 15,000 shortfall of university places every year for Hong Kong students,” said Jarvis.

“What do these students do when they can’t get a UGC- (University Grants Committee) funded place in Hong Kong?

“Mum and Dad are forced to put their hands in their pockets or get a loan so they can go overseas where it is ridiculously expensive. For a four-year degree course, you could be looking at costs of few hundred thousand US dollars.

“This is awful. It perpetuates this kind of social inequity about who gets access to higher education to go overseas. It creates a two-class system which does not support Hong Kong’s social objectives.”

Jarvis said it also created a modern-day version of the brain drain in which Hong Kong and other Asian countries were losing their brightest young people in their most productive years.

“It’s a massive problem for a lot of Asian countries,” he said. “A lot of these students go abroad for whatever reason or because they don’t get a university place in their home countries and we lose them to UK, Australia, Canada and USA.

“This is a bizarre and unintended outcome of the system that rations out university places like Hong Kong.”

Old school

Jarvis said the root of the problem was Hong Kong’s antiquated higher education system, which was heavily controlled by the government with universities not given room to innovate like those in Australia and Canada.

“It (the government) wants universities to internationalize and be more entrepreneurial and to make Hong Kong into an educational hub but universities are not given the autonomy and scope to do this,” he said.

“There is disconnect between, on one hand, the lip service paid to making Hong Kong the international education hub and, on the other hand, wanting to control what programs can be offered, how many students you can admit, where these students should come from, and funding given to you to do that.”

Jarvis said, as a result, Hong Kong was lagging behind other countries increasingly and in addition the student participation rate in higher education was embarrassingly low.

“Only 20 per cent of Hong Kong high school students go on to university. This compared with 40 percent in the USA, 54 percent in Australia and 60 per cent in Korea,” he said. “We need to modernize the system.”

Back at the Education UK Exhibition, Form Six student Candy Leung is browsing the various stands.

“I think the UK has a better education system than Hong Kong. It is a good place to study,” she says.

Her mother stands by attentively. “I would much rather Candy stays here close to her family,” she says.

Meanwhile, Jacob But is resigned to the fact that the lack of places in Hong Kong will most probably result in his son studying overseas — a move which will cost him dearly.

“I know how much it costs,” he says. “I think we can just manage the fees. We are not very rich but we are not very poor.”

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