Health officials reported 34,466 new Covid-19 cases on February 28, and the government could adopt a strict lockdown. The high infection rates could hinder those who had expected to go abroad, stakeholders have hinted.
Additionally, immigration schemes introduced by a number of countries during have impacted the demand for international education among families and students from Hong Kong. The UK introduced a new visa following what its said was breach of international law commitments by China after its government imposed the National Security Law in Hong Kong in 2020.
Director of Britannia StudyLink Samuel Chan has said that demand for UK independent and boarding schools has shifted, largely as a result of the new pathway.
Previously, 80% of parents were looking for traditional boarding school packages that would see their children integrating fully with British students.
“Now, parents accept that there are many more Chinese students in the UK so their concern has shifted to how their children are treated and what activities exist to help them mix with British students. There is also a stronger appetite for day places due to the British National (Overseas) initiative,” Chan said.
“In the past, virtually all our students from Hong Kong came to the UK as boarders”
“In the past, virtually all our students from Hong Kong came to the UK as boarders. The BNO scheme has changed the situation since families can now relocate to the UK and send their children to schools as day students. The day numbers have increased to roughly 20-30% of our enquiries.”
The BNO scheme for the UK was rolled out by the UK government in July 2021. Similar initiatives like Canada’s permanent residence pathway, Australia’s permanent residence visa streams and the US’s “temporary safe haven” were introduced in response to Beijing’s “crackdown” on democracy in the Chinese territory.
“There are obviously some families leaving from Hong Kong under different initiative schemes offered by different countries, especially the students who were studying in the international schools in Hong Kong,” a spokesperson LKL International Consulting Company HK told The PIE.
“US, UK, Australia, Canada are still the main destinations of overseas studies for Hong Kong students.”
According to Sherwood Wan, regional director – Asia (Pathways) at Oxford International Education Group, the numbers of enquiries of studying in the UK has been rising since UK offered the BNO scheme.
With Canada and Australia offering similar initiatives, Wan expects the numbers of family relocating to be increasing. “But this will not the case for just UK only, but also to the Australia and Canada,” he said.
“A lot of parents have not yet made up their mind with a concrete plan, major reasons are because of the pandemic, financial and jobs commitments but the numbers are expected to grow because of the political reasons, and they do not think that the education system an the environment in Hong Kong will be same as 10 years ago,” he told The PIE.
“With this uncertainty, these families will be moving and it means their children will be following the family decisions and enrolling either to schools or high education institutions.”
Recent UCAS statistics in the UK however found that Hong Kong was one of the few countries to have seen a fall in application numbers, as of January 2022. Applications for this year Hong Kong declined by 390 applicants to 6,010.
Assessment of the market by British Council Hong Kong indicates that there may be some “rationalisation” among Hong Kong parents and students following what it calls “the large emigration wave” seen in the last two years to pursue studies in the UK.
“In addition to that, the UK is also facing stiff competition from both Australia and Canada who have also announced similar migration opportunities for Hong Kong students who complete their studies in these countries,” Anna Lee, head of Education Service, North East Asia said.
“Having said that, the UK is still the top English-speaking study abroad destination for Hong Kong students and the third largest sending market of undergraduate students to UK universities. Hong Kong is definitely still one of the most important student recruitment markets for UK higher education institutions.”
For Chan, whose clients are looking for pre-higher education opportunities in the UK, the increased demand has now peaked. In 2021, Britannia assisted more than 1,000 students at private schools and a further 1,000 asking for help in finding places at UK state and grammar schools, he detailed. “This year we expect similar numbers again. This will mark the end of the surge.”
The UK has seen two peaks over the last three years – one in 2019 during the political movement and then in 2021 when the BNO initiative came acted “as a catalyst”.
“But over the next few years, we will continue to see a large number of families relocating,” Chan continued.
“Our engagement with parents tells us that there are many families with both the desire and financial means to send their children to UK schools and/or relocate to the UK.” Many have been unable to drop everything and act immediately, he said.
Growth has also been limited due to a population drop, with shrinking youth demographic and rising number of retirees.
“The numbers of final year of high school students has been declining in the last 10 years,” said Wan.
While in 2013, roughly 75,000 students completed final year of high school, it has estimated to hit the bottom in 2021/22, at about 50,000 students per year.
Along with the new permanent residence options, additional factors families have been taking into consideration include job opportunities, option for homes, whether the students will be paying home or international tuition fees, and the duration of the pathway leading to the permanent residence, he noted.
“The bright side is that we will finally see a growth after years of decline and it is expected the numbers of students will gradually grow in the next few years expected to back to about 60,000 per year but the figures cannot be compared to what it used to be like 10 years ago,” he suggested.
“In the last two years, the Covid case numbers In Hong Kong were much lower compared to the UK and other Western countries”
“The local higher education institutions both in the public and private sectors have been offering more options for students, and many students have decided to stay because of the Covid. In the last two years, the Covid case numbers In Hong Kong were much lower compared to the UK and other Western countries and this was also one of the reasons that students in Hong Kong decided to continue the higher education in Hong Kong.”
Chan and Wan both agree that the UK remains an attractive education destination. Hong Kong’s education system is still “narrow, exam-driven system, totally unlike what British schools offer”, Chan said.
“In fact, we are seeing vacancies at the ordinarily popular international and local schools here in Hong Kong. They are losing students and advertising in the newspapers. This is totally unheard of! In the past they have always had long waiting lists,” he said.
“Whatever happens here politically, parents will want their children to be away from stress and safe from conflict.”