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Tuesday, August 16, 2022, 00:04
Hong Kong needs to attract and retain top university students from outside
By Ho Lok-sang
Tuesday, August 16, 2022, 00:04 By Ho Lok-sang

Hong Kong needs to nurture, retain and attract talents. This is the only way the city can compete successfully, especially when we are in the league of world cities, global financial centers and international business centers.

Hong Kong has many top universities. Even our not-so-top universities are also pretty good. This is because we have a rigorous accreditation system, and all our institutions of higher learning are well equipped and staffed by qualified academics and professionals. We certainly have the ability to nurture homegrown talents.

A problem, though, confronts us. We have an aging and fertility problem. We do not have enough students, and in order to excel, we need to recruit top students. The way ahead is quite clear: We need to open our doors to attract high-caliber students from all over the world.

Because our public universities are heavily subsidized, it does make sense to give priority to local students. But setting a quota to limit the enrollment of international or Chinese-mainland students does not make much sense to me. It is even more absurd to me that our present quotas for private universities and colleges are even tighter than those for publicly funded universities. We really should open up. Having fee-paying international and mainland students will only benefit our students because they help boost our financial resources and allow our students to get exposure to students of other backgrounds. Our students cannot afford to be inward-looking. After all, Hong Kong is a world city. They need to learn to interact and work with people of different backgrounds from an early age.

We should help them (foreign or mainland students) with housing and other issues, so they feel Hong Kong is like a second home to them, so they will have the incentive to stay behind and work here

I would advise that we do away with all quotas as long as we have sufficient university places so all qualified local students continue to have access to a university place. If a foreign or mainland student has very high merits, we should even avail them of scholarships. We should help them with housing and other issues, so they feel Hong Kong is like a second home to them, so they will have the incentive to stay behind and work here.

To me, a vibrant economy with lots of opportunities for ambitious hardworking people is the biggest attraction to talents. In addition, we need to make those who choose to stay and work in Hong Kong feel that they are welcome here. Let us do away with all discriminative policies. It is most puzzling to me why a foreigner or a mainland resident who chooses to work and live in Hong Kong should be punished with a hefty Buyer’s Stamp Duty when they buy a flat. Convener of the Executive Council Regina Ip Lau Suk-yee recently proposed that mainland residents who choose to work in Hong Kong should be exempt from the Buyer’s Stamp Duty. Soon after she floated the idea, the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region government quickly said that it has no plans to relax any of the stamp duties at this time. I applaud Mrs Ip’s idea and I would go even further. If we really want to attract talents, we should not discriminate against them. The discriminatory Buyer’s Stamp Duty is telling them they are not welcome here. When the entire world is clamoring for talents, how can we retain such antiquated, discriminatory policies on talents who express the wish to make Hong Kong their home?

Last year, the INSEAD Global Talent Competitiveness Index placed Hong Kong at the 20th spot, while Singapore took seventh place. The index is published annually by INSEAD, a renowned business school with four campuses worldwide. Singapore is very aggressive in attracting and retaining talents. In contrast, Hong Kong is not proactive in attracting talents at all. Our high housing costs and high education costs already make us seriously disadvantaged, and we do not have much manufacturing. Our edge is that the HKSAR is part of the Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macau Greater Bay Area and that we are an international city, but this edge is contingent on the absence of barriers in travel and in communication. 

Removing the barriers caused by quarantine requirements must be a priority. Now that our fully vaccinated rate is 89.9 percent, well ahead of the 67.8 percent of the United States, we are almost ready to fully open up. The recent initiatives to shorten quarantine requirements and substituting quarantine with limiting access to scheduled premises resembled what I proposed weeks ago. We should continue this opening-up process. Only a vibrant economy can attract talents. We should also do away with the discriminatory Buyer’s Stamp Duty for new arrivals who live and work in Hong Kong. I would also advise abolishing the Special Stamp Duty, which the evidence shows has not helped making homeownership easier for Hong Kong residents. Abolishing the Special Stamp Duty will help our economic recovery and will also help improve housing affordability because it will increase the supply of existing homes as their owners seek to trade up to better homes.

The HKSAR government is wise in starting to ease some of the measures that are obviously creating difficulties for our businesses to recover. By boosting our economic performance, by opening up to the Chinese mainland and the rest of the world, by reducing education and housing costs, we will greatly enhance our attraction to talents.

The author is director of Pan Sutong Shanghai-Hong Kong Economic Policy Research Institute, Lingnan University.

The views do not necessarily reflect those of China Daily. 


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