Hong Kong migration an ‘easier in’ to mainland universities

Moving to the island from mainland China offers families a way to bypass gruelling entrance exam, researchers say

September 30, 2023
China door
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Growing numbers of mainland Chinese parents appear to be using Hong Kong’s friendly immigration policies as a way to give their children a leg up in China’s hyper-competitive university admissions, scholars believe.

According to a recent report by the Hong Kong newspaper The Standard, the island’s self-financed universities – less prestigious institutions that don’t receive high government subsidies – have admitted a “wave” of mainland Chinese citizens, who enrol in master’s courses to bring their families to the island.

The move, the paper suggests, is a means of helping children avoid China’s gruelling university entrance exam, the gaokao.

Scholars said that, for families who can afford it, such a tactic would make sense. Enrolling in a university is one means of getting to the island; many professionals are already taking advantage of Hong Kong’s recently launched top talent pass scheme, open to high earners and graduates of global top 100 universities, as an easy route to immigration. 

David Zweig, emeritus professor at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, said that giving youngsters a leg up in university admissions could prove an “important incentive” for Chinese parents emigrating to the island.

“It is easier for Hong Kong students to get into mainland universities, and maybe without doing the gaokao or at least with lower scores,” he said.

High schoolers in Hong Kong sit the Diploma for Secondary Education (DSE) exam, which is similar to the UK’s A levels, testing students on four core subjects and a couple of electives.

While Chinese universities overwhelmingly require applicants from the mainland to take the gaokao – a nine-hour exam spaced over two or three days – many of them exempt Hong Kong applicants from taking it, with 127 mainland universities accepting the DSE exam in 2021, according to reports.

Some mainland parents moving to Hong Kong may look to enrol their children in high-performing local institutions, said Yanbo Wang, associate professor of strategy and innovation at the University of Hong Kong.

“Many mainlander families are trying to utilise Hong Kong’s new visa programmes to pave roads for their kids’ future education,” he said, adding he would not be surprised if thousands were opting to move for this purpose. 

Still, he believed a greater number of them would be looking for a way to bypass fierce competition for spots at prestigious Chinese institutions.

“I have mainly heard that people want to change their family status, i.e. to get Hong Kong passports, so that their kids can have privileged treatment when applying to mainland colleges,” he said.

“Most of the Hong Kong universities, except the top three or top five, cannot compete against the top schools in China in terms of reputation and alumni networks.”

Ka Ho Mok, vice-president of Lingnan University Hong Kong, suspected that some families moving from the mainland would be thinking not only about their children’s prospects at university, but what comes afterwards, in the job market.

Attending a Hong Kong university could offer advantages for future employment, he said, alluding to the high youth unemployment levels in China, with universities there recently coming under pressure to ensure graduates find work.

“Graduate employment has become very challenging in mainland China, so it would be understandable to look for an alternative in choosing Hong Kong as a destination for study.”


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