With his eyes on the prize, 19-year-old Ronald Li Ho-ting rejected the offer of a place at the Department of Journalism of the Baptist University and chose film studies at Beijing Normal University instead.
Li thinks there is a bigger and more diverse market for drama and the performing arts in Beijing. Theatre companies from all over the world flock to the capital to perform and the cultural ambiance is far better than in Hong Kong, he says.
But that does not mean there is greater artistic freedom. Li was a member of the Drama Society at his university, which planned to perform a play about the Cultural Revolution for an inter-varsity competition. But despite months of rehearsals, the production was banned by a senior professor.
For Li, this was an act of self-censorship. Yet, he says it is essential to know the hidden rules and figure out ways to survive in the Mainland where, unlike in Hong Kong, not everything is written in black and white.
While some Hong Kongers are trying to unlock the secret to surviving in a society that lacks freedom, many mainland students are studying in Hong Kong. Lucy Lan Shi-ying, 20, a third year maths student at CUHK, enjoys the academic environment and freedom of speech here. Lan says that on mainland campuses, people may not say what they really think and seldom discuss sensitive topics.
Even as the government and others extol the virtues of studying in the Mainland, it seems there are those who appreciate the Hong Kong university experience. Lan says she has no regrets about missing out on opportunities to establish mainland networks that could advance her career.
As Ip Kin-yuen, legislator for the education functional constituency sees it, the government should be putting more resources into providing more tertiary education places here in Hong Kong, rather than sending students out. For instance, he thinks there should be more support for associate degree programmes. Ip says fees for these programmes can be up to HK$68,000 but students receive little financial support from the government. He questions the priorities in the use of public resources.
What is more, he thinks students who leave to study in the Mainland have a higher tendency to stay behind to work there, which may add to Hong Kong’s labour shortage woes. Instead of offering cash incentives for students to study in the Mainland, Ip says we should be asking the following questions: Should China be a solution? Why not Hong Kong itself? And why is only China being touted as a solution? Why not Taiwan and other places?
Jack Qiu Linchuan, associate professor at the School of Journalism and Communication at CUHK, agrees with Ip. Qiu thinks students would learn much better in Taiwan, especially for those studying journalism. “Traditional Chinese is used there, you can learn Mandarin too, and you can enjoy more freedom,” he says.
Qiu, who is from the Mainland and graduated from Peking University in 1997, did his graduate studies in Hong Kong and the United States. He is negative about the education system in China. “Schools are the microcosm of the society; they are hypocritical, they look like they are doing good, but in fact they are doing the opposite. I think Hong Kong people should not learn from this,” Qiu says.
Having studied in both the Mainland and Hong Kong, Qiu questions the government’s initiative to send students to study in the Mainland. “I don’t understand, I think it is a waste of the tax payers’ money,” he says.
Edited by Natalie Tsoi