The survey of 2,739 students planning their future educational paths found that 84% had no interest in studying abroad, backing up a previous survey from BOSSA in which agents predicted a drop in students going abroad.

“They think Hong Kong offers a more international environment for learning”

The five most popular study destinations among respondents were the US (17.1%), Hong Kong (13.35%), the UK (12.18%), Japan (10.77%), and Taiwan (10.77%).

The report’s authors suggest that at times of instability, such as those brought about by Covid-19, students may want to stay in neighbouring regions in which they can have international exposure but easily return home when necessary.

They further point to barriers to pursuing further degrees overseas such as travel bans, visa restrictions and campus lockdowns, as well as worries on health and safety, and delays in obtaining English tests as other factors influencing student choice.

Among the Mainland Chinese students surveyed, the top five destinations they were interested in were the US, UK, Hong Kong, Japan and Singapore.

Given the protests and social unrests in Hong Kong, the city’s popularity may be somewhat surprising.

“I actually asked some of the students [why they chose Hong Kong] when they joined on our program,” report author Mok Ka-ho, vice president of Lingnan University and Lam Man Tsan chair professor of comparative policy of the department of sociology and social policy told The PIE News.

“They think Hong Kong offers a more international environment for learning and actually our medium of instruction is purely English. So I think they see this as a beautiful thing, and if anything happens it’s close to home.”

Mok said that while the number of applicants from the Mainland had gone down last year, this year the numbers were “impressive”, particularly for master and PhD programs.

For the Hong Kongers in the survey meanwhile, the most popular destinations were US, Taiwan, Japan, the UK and Australia.

“Many young kids especially are quite fond of Taiwan culture,” explained Mok, who added that one draw could also be migration.

“I think Mainland students would choose Hong Kong rather than Taiwan because of the very unstable relationship,” he added.

“The Chinese government in the Mainland would not encourage the Chinese students to go to Taiwan. Colleagues working in Taiwan universities told me the number has declined tremendously because of the unstable relationship across the Taiwan Straits.”

However, Taiwan was a top ten destination for Mainland students surveyed, which the report said hadn’t be observed before.

“More and more students in the Mainland, if they do not go outside China or overseas, are studying at some sort of alternative learning environment,” said Mok.

“They will join transnational programs operated in China or through the branch campuses. They have plenty of choices.”

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