BNO visa holders from Hong Kong ‘a bridge to Asia’, UK told

Scholars urge home fees for young Hong Kongers but warn other former British colonies could want similar concessions

六月 15, 2022
China bridge
Source: iStock

Young Hong Kong residents who moved to the UK under its British National Overseas visa scheme could provide crucial links for a country keen to develop its ties in Asia – and should be treated as an asset to the nation – higher education experts argued.

The point comes amid a push by MPs to make BNO holders who finished their schooling in the UK eligible for home fee status. Currently, young arrivals who came with their parents are not eligible for home fees or government-backed public finance until they have resided in the UK for five years.

These students should not be made to pay international university tuition fees which cost thousands of pounds more a year than those paid by their UK-born counterparts, experts argued.

Hong Kongers’ “international outlook” and close connections to Asia could build a “strong foundation” on which to base the UK’s aspirations to strengthen ties in this part of the world, said Ka Ho Mok, vice-president and dean of the School of Graduate Studies at Lingnan University.

Speaking at an event hosted by the Centre for Global Higher Education, he noted that these young people already have “the Asian experience – they speak very good Mandarin and their native language is Cantonese”.

Critically, they also have an understanding of China that’s sorely lacking in the UK.

“If we can groom this group of Hong Kongers…nurture them to become leaders and give them [a] home in the UK, they will become ‘brain bridges’,” he said.

Michael Natzler, a consultant who previously researched Hong Kong and China for the Higher Education Policy Institute (Hepi), said that BNO holders would be “key” to China competency initiatives by the UK government and also to ongoing debate over “what Global Britain means”.

“It’s in the interests of everyone – government, universities and BNO holders – to find a solution to the barriers BNOs are facing accessing UK higher education,” he said.

But the argument will need to convince ministers to open up the purse strings for thousands of additional “home” status students even as the economy faces the pressures of pandemic recovery and rising inflation.

Hepi estimated that a “likely” 250,000 to 350,000 BNO holders would arrive in the UK over five years, “but the figure could be as high as 1 million” and the number of additional undergraduate places needed was between 14,000 to 24,000.

This summer already, hundreds of young Hong Kongers without home fee status would pass their A levels, Mr Natzler estimated – although he cautioned this was merely a “back of the envelope” calculation.

Simon Marginson, professor of higher education at the University of Oxford, underscored the need for a persuasive value proposition for politicians and institutions that face a hit to their international fee income.

“Expecting the government to make decisions on basis of moral obligations…only takes you so far when you’re lobbying,” he noted. “The argument that really strikes me as the winning argument is the one…about bridges and nation-building in the UK.”

Former Hong Kong residents were a “resource” for the UK, he noted, adding that they could play a “pivotal role” between two cultures, just as their city has done.

“This is a highly educated and capable community on the whole, but not just that, it’s the fact that it has an East-West sensibility,” he said. “That understanding of Asia which especially the UK doesn’t have and Europe as a whole doesn’t have…it’s a gift to a nation which has decided it wants to go its own way in the world.”

Professor Marginson was among several speakers to note that the UK also had “historic obligations and responsibilities as former coloniser” of Hong Kong – especially in light of the city’s handover to China. But if the UK offers home status to Hong Kong students, this could unleash a cascade of requests by students from other former British colonies.

“I think that’s one of the problems with that very proper and morally grounded historic argument, that the British controlled so many parts of the world, so much of it, that to open the doorway to former colonies is to open it to a lot of people – not least in South Asia,” he said.



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