Offer scholarships to young Hongkongers, Patten tells West

Ex-governor also wants UK to offer visas to youth born after 1997 to counter clampdown on free speech

January 19, 2022
Hong Kong boat
Source: iStock

Hong Kong’s last colonial governor has called on the UK and other anglophone nations to offer scholarships to young people in the city living under increasingly authoritarian rule.

Lord Patten of Barnes told Times Higher Education that Western countries should offer bursaries to “young Hongkongers who feel their futures in Hong Kong have been blighted by the Chinese Communist Party”.

“It wouldn’t be a very expensive thing to do, but it would give another lifeline to students to enjoy a proper university education rather than one that has been politicised,” said Lord Patten, the governor of Hong Kong from 1992 until its handover to China in 1997.

As well as the UK, Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the US, and potentially European countries also, could offer scholarships, Lord Patten said.

The call came amid what Lord Patten called a “depressing situation” for academic freedom in Hong Kong. The past 12 months has seen the arrest of student activists, the dissolution of student unions and the takedown of pro-democracy monuments, including a statue on one university campus commemorating victims of the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre.  

“For universities to continue to give a decent education depends very much on the courage and bravery of individual academics, but it’s very difficult to continue to provide the same sort of liberal education in Hong Kong now,” Lord Patten said.

Lord Patten also argued that the UK could extend its offer of residency to unaccompanied 18-to-24-year-olds, those most likely to have participated in its 2019 pro-democracy protests and whose education could suffer from censorship. 

When Hong Kong was transferred to China, the UK offered British national overseas (BNO) status to Hongkongers. In July 2020, following the passage of Hong Kong’s controversial national security law, the UK government said that individuals with BNO status would be given the right to remain in the UK, with the right to work and study for five years, and ultimately apply for citizenship.

The policy has led to a surge in visa applications, with nearly 89,000 people applying under the scheme between January and October 2021. But the scheme doesn’t cover young adults in their teens and early twenties who were born after 1997.

“I was delighted when we gave passports to people who wanted them when we were still there – the problem is that those passports don’t go automatically to their children,” said Lord Patten.

“If you’re in that category…you should be able to come here and have right of abode.”

pola.lem@timeshighereducation.com

POSTSCRIPT:

Print headline: Help young Hongkongers, Patten urges West

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