In recent years, the number of Mainland Chinese students studying in Hong Kong has sky-rocketed, especially in business-related disciplines. At a guess, about 30% of the undergraduate students taking my Introductory Macroeconomics class are from the mainland, while the numbers in my Master of Economics and MBA classes are a little lower.
Why do Mainland students choose to study in Hong Kong? Ultimately this should be an economic decision, trading off the benefits of a relatively expensive Hong Kong education against an education elsewhere. Accordingly, I can think of a number of possible explanations for students choosing to study here:
1) They want to work in Hong Kong after they graduate. This might seem an attractive possibility, given that wages are still higher in Hong Kong than the Mainland in most fields (although the cost of living is also much higher here). In a small survey by the Hong Kong Association of Mainland Graduates reported in the SCMP today, 92% of Mainland students said they wished to stay following graduation.
However, if this survey is accurate, many Mainland students must leave disappointed. According to figures in the same SCMP article, there were 4,112 Mainland students studying in Hong Kong in 2005, but only 236 remained after the completion of their studies. The SCMP also discusses other evidence that is more optimistic, especially for undergraduate students, suggesting that as many as 50% may be successful in landing a job here.
2) Related to 1), some students may come to Hong Kong as students as a way to obtain a visa and have little intention of actually studying, but instead intend to work or search for a job here.
3) Students may expect to gain a “better” education in Hong Kong, along at least some dimension. This is not necessarily a criticism of the Mainland universities, but there are some important historical differences between Hong Kong and the Mainland which continue to influence their universities today. Hong Kong has been a free market, capitalist economy for many years, while the Mainland only began opening up economically starting in 1978. This is reflected in the way in which some business oriented disciplines are taught at university. For example, in many Mainland universities, Economics is more of a descriptive subject, with elements of Maxist ideology included. In contrast, an economics degree in Hong Kong will be similar in content to one from North America or Europe. (Note that this difference is diminishing: the top Mainland universities increasingly hire Western trained PhDs, and offer a product that looks increasingly like the one we offer at HKU).
If this argument is true, then we would expect to find more Mainland students studying disciplines where the product differences are largest. Indeed, this is what we find. From memory, the majority of undergraduate Mainland students studying at HKU study in the Faculty of Business and Economics, and many of you take my class!
4) Related to 3), some of our PhD students successfully obtain jobs teaching at Mainland universities following their studies. The market may place a higher value on a HKU PhD than on one from most Mainland universities.
If you are a student from the Mainland, which of the above is most accurate in your case? Have I missed other explanations? And do you feel that your education is meeting your expectations?