Magnet for local students

PUBLISHED : Friday, 01 July, 1994, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 01 July, 1994, 12:00am

EVER wondered why there are so many Canadian accents in Hong Kong? Or why local screenings of Blue Jays' games have hordes of young Chinese gasping on the edges of their seats? The maple leaf has become as easily recognisable as the bauhinia flower in Hong Kong, and a major reason is the number of Hong Kong youngsters who jet to Canada for their formative years.

A consul for the Commission for Canada in Hong Kong, Neil Reeder, has tallied a staggering 17,000 Hong Kong students who are studying in Canadian primary and secondary schools, universities and colleges.

''Nearly two per cent of the entire population of Hong Kong has university degrees from Canadian institutions,'' Mr Reeder said.

Hong Kong president of the University of Toronto Alumni Association Benjamin Lee holds court over the largest society of its kind in the territory.

''On our database, we have over 1,400, but we estimate there are another 4,000 to 5,000 running around out there,'' Mr Lee said.

''A lot of Hong Kong students go to Britain, the United States and Australia and, some time ago, a great many were going to Taiwan.

''But, now, Hong Kong is the major supplier of overseas students to universities in Canada. Hong Kong is number one and China is number two.'' Canada's popularity is booming among Hong Kong secondary school students and parents who can afford the air fares and tuition fees.

Hong Kong Government figures show the number of tertiary students opting for Canada almost doubled between 1980 and 1990, increasing from 5,772 to 9,199.

In the same period, the numbers who chose the United States rose by only 2,000 to 12,630, and the British-bound student tally remained almost stagnant at 7,346.

''One of the major reasons students are going to Canada is because of the immigration policy,'' Mr Lee said.

''It's a derivative of parents going to Canada. When the parents migrate, their children have to change to a Canadian university.

''That works well because a lot of families have to live there for a few years to satisfy the immigration requirements. It's perfect because a university degree usually takes four years.'' Canada's place in the Commonwealth ensures its academic qualifications are accepted in Hong Kong, although engineers and, soon, doctors, must sit for local exams before their degrees are recognised.

Mr Lee, a Canadian engineering graduate, said most Hong Kong students were interested in qualifications which would start them on a lucrative career ladder.

He said many Hong Kongers gained degrees in business, as well as in commerce and engineering.