16 September 2019
There are several reasons why so many mainlanders are scrambling to gain higher degrees in Hong Kong.
There are several reasons why so many mainlanders are scrambling to gain higher degrees in Hong Kong.

Why mainland students fancy HK postgraduate degree

Hong Kong universities have always been the darlings of many mainland high school and college graduates.

Mainland students enrolled in postgraduate courses in the territory reached 10,029 last year, up 76 percent from just 5,685 in 2010, figures from the Education Bureau show. Less than 100 of them were admitted in 2003.

The growth is even more impressive given the fact that the combined headcount of taught postgraduate students at all local universities stands at 35,000 over 2010-2013.

In Hong Kong, postgraduate programs and degrees fall under two categories — taught and research. Taught courses can be finished within one year and requirements such as thesis or dissertation are dispensed with, although no scholarships are offered. On the other hand, publicly-funded postgraduate research programs offer students a financing scheme that includes a monthly allowance of around HK$14,000 (US$1,806). It’s more difficult to get a slot in these programs, and students have to submit research papers.

Among the eight institutions funded by the University Grants Committee (UGC), Chinese University of Hong Kong admitted the most taught postgraduate students from the mainland — more than 2,000 a year on average during 2010-2013. Figures for the University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong Polytechnic University, City University of Hong Kong and Hong Kong Baptist University range from 1,500-2,000 per year during the period. Lingnan University’s intake was the lowest at about 300 last year.

Some of the local students and lawmakers have been crying foul at the overwhelming proportion of mainlanders — 70 percent of all postgraduate students, either taught or research. Hong Kong students have become a minority in their own educational institutions.

A mainland student who is reading her master’s degree at the Baptist University told Shanghai-based news portal The Paper that all of her classmates are from the mainland and some of the courses are instructed in Putonghua.

What’s more, the eight UGC-funded universities will offer a combined 17 new taught postgraduate programs this year with additional places exceeding 1,000, the Hong Kong Economic Journal reports. And Shue Yan University and The Open University of Hong Kong have also joined the party this year.

The secret behind their enthusiasm is that postgraduate programs are a truly lucrative business.

In a reply to a Legislative Council inquiry, the Education Bureau noted that the tuition for a taught postgraduate program ranges from HK$80,000 to HK$180,000. Such programs are not UGC-funded and are offered on a self-financing basis. As such, universities have absolute autonomy in deciding how many students to admit. Simply put, the more the better. Universities also have the discretion on how to use their fat profits.

In this sense, although no exact figures are available as to how much profit these institutions reap from the programs, the amount can just be staggering.

Despite the growing places on offer, the race to get into a Hong Kong university is not at all easy. The Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, for instance, has received over 13,000 applications — up to 80 percent are from the mainland — for its taught postgraduate programs this year. That’s about 10 times the student places available.

One may wonder why there are just so many mainlanders scrambling to gain higher degrees in Hong Kong.

Besides some obvious reasons like the territory’s proximity to the mainland and its status as a major financial center and cultural melting pot, degrees conferred by Hong Kong institutions are widely recognized and can be a ticket to some prestigious firms.

Also, it takes around three years to finish a postgraduate program in the mainland and many believe the time is not worthwhile. Another major incentive is the prospect of working in Hong Kong thanks to the liberal immigration policy that grants non-local graduates unconditional extension of stay for another year after graduation.

Some say that working in Hong Kong for a couple of years can be a plus to their career advancement, and one can also gain permanent residency after seven years of stay. It’s also much cheaper than the Capital Investment Entrant Scheme, which offers the right of abode to eligible investors with a minimum investment of HK$10 million in non-realty assets.

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EJ Insight writer