Money talks

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 05 October, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 05 October, 2011, 12:00am


For the scores of Hong Kong parents who are desperate to send their children overseas to be educated, the good news is that now is a better time than ever. In a survey released last month by Inside Higher Education, record numbers of admissions officers at US universities say they are focusing more on recruiting international students.

US universities are reporting double-digit percentages of international students, with the University of Southern California, Columbia University and New York University leading the pack.

The primary reason for the change is money. Most US universities' operating budgets have taken a hit in the economic downturn. At the same time, they are attracting more international students, particularly those from Asia. Last year, China sent nearly 130,000 to study in the US, becoming the top country of origin. In a recent poll by MasterCard, more than half of Hongkongers surveyed said they plan to send their children abroad for education. For many US schools, this presents a golden opportunity.

This past year, the University of California, Davis saw a 37 per cent increase in the number of international students, particularly from China. International students at UC schools pay about US$54,000 per year in fees, compared to about US$32,000 for California residents. With such a discrepancy, it's no wonder the University of California, among others, has been recruiting more heavily in Hong Kong. Robert Mansueto, director of university counselling at Chinese International School, says UC Berkeley has come to Hong Kong several times in the past two years to hold public information sessions, after holding none for 10 years.

Unlike domestic students, international students at many US schools do not qualify for financial aid, scholarships or grants.

Most Hong Kong students I talked to thought that the change in admissions was good news. But where does it leave the high-achieving local students who dream of going abroad to study but cannot afford the HK$400,000 a year? It leaves them here in Hong Kong, disappointed and disillusioned. These students believe that schools should not operate like businesses, that education ought to be strictly a meritocracy, and that a school's values should not change based on the economy. They believe that every student, regardless of nationality, should have equal access to financial aid and scholarships, that admissions should not take into account an applicant's financial situation, and that every student should pay the same tuition fee.

It is sad to see so many schools recruit more from Asia yet overlook these bright young scholars. Education is a precious resource and a vehicle for upward mobility. As admissions are increasingly allocated according to background, wealth and privilege, the value of education goes down. So many people from all over the world want to go to US universities because the schools stand for academic vigour, intellectual freedom and uncompromised admissions. But will so many Chinese students still want to go 10 years from now?

Kelly Yang is the founder of The Kelly Yang Project, an after-school programme for children in Hong Kong. She is a graduate of the University of California, Berkeley, and Harvard Law School.