Mainland students turning away from Hong Kong universities over violence, hatred

By Hu Yuwei and Zhang Dan Source:Global Times Published: 2019/9/5 18:23:40

Students from the Chinese mainland show less willingness to go to Hong Kong universities for concern over personal safety and campus unrest amid escalating street violence

○ Some turning to other destinations on advice of parents over risks, and also out of disappointment in Hong Kong higher education 

Experts suggest politicized universities in Hong Kong will put prospective mainland students under great pressure

Around 300 middle school students gather at an assembly point in a playground to support the school boycott in Wan Chai on the afternoon of September 2. Photo: Wang Wenwen/GT

"Get out! You don't deserve to be a university student," a mainland student yelled to a group of black-clad protesters who had flooded into Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK) on Monday. He ran onto the stage and tore up a black flag on the stage, waving his passport and announcing his support for the police.

This scene took place on the very first day of opening classes, as shown in a video widely circulated on social media. 

Although CUHK had urged students to cancel Monday's planned on-campus assembly out of security concerns, some small-scale protests still occurred on campus on that day, a student at CUHK confirmed to Global Times.

"Thousands of students held a rally on Monday to kick off a two-week class boycott at 11 tertiary institutions across Hong Kong," Hong Kong-based media South China Morning Post reported.

Hong Kong universities are losing their appeal for mainland students over the region's ongoing unrest, prompting some students who have got offers from Hong Kong universities to not take up their admissions or defer their entries over safety concerns, Global Times learnt from some mainland students previously interested in Hong Kong universities.

For some Chinese mainland students reached by the Global Times, the freedom, openness, tolerance and respect that are expected for Hong Kong higher education seem to have collapsed.

Students and parents are also concerned that the quality of teaching at Hong Kong universities will be affected by the political chaos.

The growing anti-China sentiment stemming from the protests, evident in the radical attack against two mainlanders, including a journalist, at Hong Kong's International Airport, also became another concern that has made students hesitate in their decisions to study there, students said.

Some fear that they will become a minority excluded from their peers and come under attack by radical protesters whenever they express their patriotic sentiments, interviewees told the Global Times.


Looking for options

Public fears of social unrest and rising social tensions in Hong Kong have spread to the field of education, prompting many mainland students who want to study in Hong Kong to stay on the mainland.

A consultant surnamed Sun from New Oriental Vision Overseas Consulting, an overseas study service agency, told the Global Times that the current situation in Hong Kong has had a great impact on students who were supposed to enroll in Hong Kong universities. 

Some of her clients have changed their plans and started to apply to study overseas, while a few are trying to defer their entry to wait for a safer time to go there. 

The number of prospective students seeking information on studying in Hong Kong has fallen sharply since June, said Sun.

"The main concern is over personal safety. And parents of undergraduate students also worried that their children will become involved in a campus protest or even serious riots. They think the political turmoil will disturb their children's studies. I was asked if there would be large scale campus conflicts if the universities allow some radical protests," said Sun.

The Global Times learnt that many universities in Hong Kong have canceled opening ceremonies and induction sessions, though some claimed in emails that "universities remain safe with no reports of any violent campus incidents," according to an email screenshot provided by a student enrolled in Hong Kong Baptist University. 

"The airport mayhem in Hong Kong International Airport caused by radical protesters has driven many to rearrange their flights to Shenzhen. Some of my classmates even decided not to live in university dormitories in Hong Kong and rent a house in Shenzhen instead, considering the better and safer environment there," Wang Fan (pseudonym), who recently enrolled in the Chinese University of Hong Kong for a master's degree, told the Global Times.

"I was very uncertain about my decision to come to Hong Kong, considering my personal safety and the degree's value when I come back to work in the mainland. However, the application season has passed, I have no other choice," Wang said. 

"We Chinese mainland students were in a state of anxiety. We had survived the complicated application process and language examination, but it was the deteriorating situation that finally hindered us."

Wang said he was not well prepared to deal with emotional - and potentially dangerous - confrontations with his Hong Kong counterparts caused by issues of identity and political stances.

This concern was shared by Yang Qiu (pseudonym), from North China's Shanxi Province, who planned to go to Hong Kong to study journalism and later decided not to go there. 

Unlike master's degrees, the majority of students in undergraduate programs in Hong Kong universities are local. Yang was concerned that she would be targeted by her Hong Kong peers if she defends her thoughts when hearing separatist remarks against China.

"One of my friends who has studied in Hong Kong for years said his classmates in the laboratory labeled him 'a Chinese mainland student' and declined to discuss anything with him," a 25-year-old MPhil student at The Chinese University of Hong Kong, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told the Global Times. 

Though she said her life at school was not seriously affected by the recent riots in Hong Kong, she is still worried that there will be major disturbances after the new term starts in September. 

"I'm thinking of leaving Hong Kong in September because protesters will shift their 'battlefield' to universities. This is what students from the Chinese mainland are afraid of," she said.

During the freshmen registration day at Hong Kong Baptist University in August, it was also reported that a number of black-clad protesters surrounded freshmen on campus, spreading radical political ideas to them and attempting to persuade them to join the protest against the government, resulting in an uproar online, according to Wen Wei Po.

A group of non-local students wrote a letter on July 15 to council members of Hong Kong University to express their concern about campus justice and the reputation of the university in the wake of conflicts at the HKU campus.

"We are here studying at the University for 'Sapientia et Virtus' not for political struggle, ethnic discrimination, injustice, violence, or any dark side of humanity. The Council and other governing units should be responsible for maintaining a peaceful and stable academic environment on campus, and showing the residents of Hong Kong a positive example to turn away from the dangerous road that heads for a chaotic and disastrous end of the city," read the letter, which was posted on the HKU Anti Campus Violence Group Facebook page.

Shattered dreams

Personal safety concerns are just one of the factors behind students' declining confidence in Hong Kong's education. A deeper concern lies in the collapse of the very notion of liberal environment that Hong Kong education once championed.

"When I was young, Hong Kong universities were very prestigious in my mind. I believed people's speech and knowledge could be respected there. But now some of my friends are afraid to speak out in support of the police over concerns of being threatened," Yang told the Global Times. 

"What we see is not tolerance, but hatred. I used to think Hong Kong students were more critical and had more independent thinking, but now I doubt it. I saw the failure of its education."

A survey by the Chinese University of Hong Kong showed that the majority of protesters in Hong Kong are between the ages of 20 and 29 and have completed a higher education. 

"What happened over the past three months made me reassess the value of Hong Kong. I can't find any reasons to make me determined to study in Hong Kong," Yang said.

She believes that Hong Kong universities have lost their advantage compared with the better and more stable environment in the mainland in terms of education quality, employment resources and opportunities. 

"Social unrest and potential economic decline may cast a shadow over Hong Kong's role as a global economic hub," she said.

As a result of her worries and disappointment, Yang finally decided to turn down her offer at a Hong Kong university. 

"At Hong Kong's universities, the mainstream position of student unions and teachers' groups is against the government, which makes it difficult for mainland students to fit in. If schools continue to be overly politicized, mainland students will feel great pressure and their studies may be affected. Their worries are reasonable," a scholar from the School of International Studies, Peking University, who asked to remain anonymous, told the Global Times.

"However, although Hong Kong's environment has deteriorated, Hong Kong universities' teaching quality and their international rankings will not be easily destroyed. After all, its reputation was not achieved in one day," the expert said.


Newspaper headline: Campus conflicts

Posted in: IN-DEPTH

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