16 February 2019
Hong Kong students in local universities may have fewer classmates from the mainland in future. 
Photo: HKEJ
Hong Kong students in local universities may have fewer classmates from the mainland in future. Photo: HKEJ

Why Hong Kong students will benefit from weakening RMB

Good news for Hong Kong university students: they may have a more diverse pool of potential friends in the next few years.

Not as many mainland Chinese students are coming as before, partly because of the devaluation of the renminbi.

We aren’t saying they cannot afford a 5 percent depreciation.

It is just that the doors for mainland students are just not as wide open as they used to be.

As the renminbi weakens, more funds are leaving China for safe havens abroad, so the country has tightened its policies on visas and foreign exchange.

The State Administration of Foreign Exchange has unofficially imposed curbs on citizens who use other people’s limits to shift cash out of the mainland, Ming Pao Daily reported.

Each mainlander is allowed an annual limit of US$50,000 in foreign exchange. A common practice is to use other people’s accounts to buy foreign exchange.

Not any longer.

Beijing has now started to blacklist people who let others use their limits, Ming Pao said. They will be banned from making foreign exchange transactions for two years.

Worse still, as suggested by immigration service firms in Shenzhen and Guangzhou, there seems to be no way to get around the new restriction.

Well give them some time to find a workaround, because in China, where there is a will, there is a way.

But there has, in fact, been a big drop in mainland students applying to study in Hong Kong.

There was a 40 percent drop in undergraduate applicants last year to Baptist University and City University.

However, for graduate studies at the University of Hong Kong, 70 percent of applicants were still from the mainland.

It is not clear why there was a sudden drop in mainland students applying last year, apart from the obvious factor that they, just like mainland tourists, do not feel welcome in Hong Kong any more.

As with picking travel destinations, many students may now pick other places for their studies, if they have a choice — as seen in the surge of mainland students going to the United States, Britain and other countries in Europe.

Flat rents at City One Shatin, home to many Chinese University of Hong Kong students, remained firm last year, but we will watch with interest how they will be affected by this trend.

Local students may end up having flatmates from places other than the mainland.

They may even get more exchange opportunities with 65 countries along China’s new “Belt and Road”, included some in Southeast Asia and Africa.

Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying announced Wednesday in his Policy Address that the government will set aside HK$1 billion (US$130 million) for scholarships for undergraduate students in Hong Kong from the Belt and Road countries.

The city’s tertiary students may have a chance to brush up their English and promote Cantonese to more international students in the years to come.

So much for those who have been saying Hong Kong students should forget English and Cantonese and learn Putonghua instead.

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EJ Insight writer

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