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Tuesday, November 1, 2016, 01:09

Experts urge enrollment of more non-local undergraduates

By Dara Wang

HONG KONG - Enrolling more non-local undergraduates should be a key population policy for Hong Kong to cope with a rapidly aging society and drive future economic growth, a report by the local think tank Our Hong Kong Foundation suggested on Monday.

Non-local undergraduates who usually live in dorms with local students would learn Cantonese and local culture faster and thus could have an easier and smoother integration into society, said Liu Pak-wai, the main author of the report, who is also a professor at the Institute of Global Economics and Finance at the Chinese University of Hong Kong.

According to the University Grants Committee (UGC), in the 2015-16 academic year 9,723 non-local full-time undergraduate students – about 12 percent of the total undergraduate student number – were admitted in Hong Kong with UGC funding . This is below the 20 percent limit for non-local students.

Enrolling more non-local undergraduates should be a key population policy for Hong Kong to cope with a rapidly aging society and drive future economic growth, a report suggested

An increase in non-local students to take up the unfilled quota will not threaten local students’ opportunities as the government has allocated funding for local and non-local students separately since this academic year, Liu explained.

The severe aging problem looms large for Hong Kong. Compared with Japan, Hong Kong is fortunate to have numerous immigrants from the Chinese mainland who share the same ethnicity and similar language, while the proportion of well-educated people is now growing, Liu said.

Non-local graduates who stay in Hong Kong to work are the second-largest source of mainland immigrants, Liu noted, citing statistics of the Immigration Department.

The number of permits granted to non-local graduates to stay in the city after graduation was 9,541 last year. The number amounted to more than half of the student visas issued in 2015, and represented an increase of 3.5 times that of eight years ago. This group of people is productive and competitive in the workplace, Liu said.

Universities in Hong Kong have strong appeal to mainland students for their international faculties and advanced academic reputations. But there are still limitations because of the city’s small size.

One bottleneck is the shortage of student dorm places, Liu said.

City University of Hong Kong guarantees dorm places for non-local undergraduates only for the first two years, while Hong Kong Baptist University promises them residence only for the first year.

Under the current policy, UGC-funded institutions are encouraged to build dormitories within or near campuses or to redevelop existing facilities into dormitories.

That brings difficulties for universities situated in the urban areas where land is scarce and expensive.

The report suggested relaxing the policy on identifying land on which to build dormitories outside campuses. It also encouraged private funding to construct more halls of residence.

Hong Kong people should realize that what society really needs is talent, while an open mindset is the prerequisite to achieving future development and prosperity, Liu said.

The report also highlighted the importance of promoting professional services under the Belt and Road Initiative and the mainland’s urbanization. National Bureau of Statistics data shows that the urbanization rate of the mainland surged to 56.1 percent in 2015. That beckons a greater demand of high-value goods and services.

Hong Kong should give full play to its world-class professional services and international network in areas such as arbitration, accounting, financing and insurances services. And the city’s tourism industry should strive to offer high-end services in relation to medicine, beauty care, cruises, conferences and exhibitions, Liu said.

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