Yetta Chan Yee-suen, 19, satisfied the minimum requirements for entry to local universities but her grades were not high enough to earn her a place. In Hong Kong, her options were to study for an associate degree or a Higher Diploma.
She chose to study journalism at Jinan University in Guangzhou instead and finds that after spending time studying in the Mainland, she has a stronger sense of belonging to China.
However, she still experiences culture shock. “One day, I was eating a meal with a close friend from the northeastern part of China. As it happened to be June 4th, I mentioned the June 4th Incident,” says Chan. “Yet, my friend had never heard of it, I was so surprised.” Chan says that when she explained it to him, her friend asked her to keep her voice down.
The lack of freedom of speech is one of the things that Hong Kong students face when studying in the Mainland, another thing they quickly become aware of is the reach of the Communist Party.
Diana Yu Suet-hung is a second year student at the Food Safety and Quality Department at Southwest University in Chongqing. Yu has made friends with some party members and party members-to- be. She believes it is useful to know party members because you can seek help from them when you are in trouble. “In China, we have a saying: Knowing people is better than knowing words,” Yu says.
Yu is the one of the first batch of students studying in the Mainland under the Admission Scheme in the 2012/2013 academic year. She left because her A-level results were unsatisfactory. “I could study in the Institute of Vocational Education (IVE) in Hong Kong, but there are too many students with such qualifications,” she says.
She says she is happy with her studies because there is little pressure and her schoolmates and teachers often take care of Hong Kong students. “The learning environment is better than Hong Kong. In Hong Kong, students revise only one day before the exam. There are these kinds of students in China too, but the majority of them are very hard working,” says Yu.
Both Yu and Yetta Chan say they find their mainland classmates to be industrious but lacking in creativity. Chan King-ming, associate professor in the School of Life Sciences at the Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK), says he also finds that mainland students tend to be more motivated and dedicated, but more rigid.
Chan, who frequently comments on education and social issues, says the mainland education system emphasises recitation and memorisation, even at university level. He says this may be a contributing factor to students’ lack of spontaneity.
For Chan, another concern about studying in the Mainland is the lack of academic freedom which affects professionalism and academic independence. Funding for many research projects comes from the government, so there may be no-go areas. “For example, research about pollution. Maybe pollution is already a top secret of the country,” says Chan, “though everyone knows how serious the pollution problem in China is.”
Chan thinks the Admission Scheme and cash allowances for students may be more about serving a political agenda, rather than educational purposes. “I think the Leung Chun-ying government is overdoing it; is explicitly encouraging students to go to the Mainland and contribute there,” says Chan.
However, the principal of Heung To College of Professional Studies, Kenneth Law Wing-cheung believes greater integration is inevitable and will provide Hong Kong’s youngsters with more opportunities. His institution is an intermediary organisation for admitting Hong Kong students to mainland universities.
Law observes that in recent years, Hong Kong students are flocking to the Mainland to study subjects like Chinese medicine, business administration, accounting and law. “If we don’t understand the development in China, it’ll be a loss to us,” says Law, who thinks it is better for students to have knowledge about the Mainland regardless of whether they want to work for Chinese or local companies.
As an example of the opportunities offered by the mainland market, Law says the box office in China reached Rmb21.77 billion in 2013.