Lure of local varsities for postgrad

With the covid-19 pandemic remaining a source of concern for those looking to pursue postgraduate studies, Hong Kong has gained more opportunities to retain local talent and attract international students in the increasingly competitive higher education sector.

In a survey of local and mainland university students, nearly 85 percent showed no interest in studying abroad post-pandemic, while Hong Kong overtook the United Kingdom as the second most popular study destination, just behind the United States.

The online survey, which collected 2,739 responses, was conducted by Lingnan University. Running between late April and early May, it asked university students in Hong Kong and the mainland to share their post-pandemic overseas study plans and preferred destinations.

The results, announced earlier this month, showed that only 16 percent of respondents are considering pursuing further education overseas.

Meanwhile, the five least preferred study destinations were France, New Zealand, South Korea, Malaysia and Italy.

Xiong Weiyan, a research assistant professor at the School of Graduate Studies and program director of the Master of Arts in International Higher Education and Management, said the results indicate that Hong Kong and Taiwan have come out as “winners” and that both places could see more Chinese students due to their proximity to the mainland.

About one-third of respondents preferred to study in Asian destinations such as Hong Kong, Taiwan and Japan due to Covid-19.

Xiong explained that nearby regions have become popular because students are able to quickly return home when necessary. “Health and safety have become students’ primary concerns, and parents are hoping to stay close to their children,” he said.

“On the other hand, travel restrictions at major study destinations like the United States and UK have made it almost impossible for Chinese students to physically study there.”

However, for Taiwan, rising cross-strait tensions, varying quarantine policies for international students and visa issues may outweigh the island’s advantages in terms of attracting mainland students.

Joshua Mok Ka-ho, vice president of LingU and leader of the study, said that despite a worsening virus situation, traditionally popular study abroad countries, such as the United States and the UK, have managed to retain their attractiveness due to their strong reputation sin the higher education sector.

However, it is noteworthy that the number of Chinese students in the UK seems to be declining, while other Anglophone countries, such as Australia, Canada and New Zealand, no longer top the list like in the past.

Mok believes that better management of Covid-19 on the part of Asian governments may be the main reason behind such a shift.

In addition, personal safety and security have become a major factor influencing students’ decisions, Mok said.

He pointed out that media reports and social media have highlighted cases of racial discrimination in Australia, potentially discouraging prospective students from studying in the country.

As a result, some higher education institutions, especially those relying heavily on international student fees, may have to face the cruel reality of closing down.

Mok added that universities’ achievements in Asia in research and internationalization could also become a key consideration for Chinese students.

He suggested that Hong Kong academic leaders further develop appropriate strategies to attract more students from the Greater Bay Area and work more closely with universities there to promote innovation-centric entrepreneurship.

“The pandemic provides a precious opportunity for universities to enhance regional collaborations,” He said.

(This article was published at The Standard on December 1, 2020: Education: Lure of local varsities for postgrad )

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