Thumbs down: Hong Kong student leaders express doubts over ‘One Belt, One Road’ scholarship scheme

Union leaders say money can be better spent on increasing number of government-subsidised degree places or sending students to more ‘mature’ countries

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 08 June, 2016, 8:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 08 June, 2016, 8:00am

Student leaders from different universities remain doubtful on whether a government plan to set aside over HK$1 billion to fund exchange and further study programmes between Hong Kong and “One Belt, One Road” countries really serves local students’ needs.

They called on the government to use the money to increase local subsidised degree places or fund students to study in countries with more mature economic and legal systems.

What is the One Belt, One Road strategy all about?

“Internationalisation is not a bad thing, but why must we go to ‘One Belt, One Road’ countries?” asked Polytechnic University student union president Franco Wong Chak-hang. “This looks simply like propaganda for China’s policy to please Chinese leaders.”

In a discussion paper submitted to the Legislative Council on Tuesday, the Education Bureau said it had set aside HK$60 million to fund exchange programmes for local tertiary students to visit belt and road countries in the current fiscal year.

Each eligible student can apply for a maximum of HK$53,000 during their sub-degree or undergraduate study. They will be means-tested before they receive any cash.

Officials said the programme would start next month and 37 out of the 40 post-secondary institutions had already signed up for it.

This sum will come on top of a proposed seed fund of HK$1 billion to provide – through investment returns – around 100 scholarship places for students from belt and road countries to pursue their undergraduate study in Hong Kong or vice versa.

Each scholarship recipient will receive at most HK$120,000 a year.

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The scholarship programme was first raised in Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying’s policy address in January, covering only students from belt and road countries. But the bureau included Hong Kong students in the programme in its final proposal.

“The government has been promoting ... students with an international outlook ... and ability to thrive in a multicultural environment,”officials said in the paper.

But Wong said with only about half of qualified students able to gain a government-subsidised degree place, he would prefer the bureau to use the money to increase the number of such places locally.

Chinese University student union president Ernie Chow Shue-fung said he could not see many economic links between Hong Kong and belt and road countries and the government should not prioritise serving the mainland’s development strategy.

University of Science and Technology student union vice-president Lam Tsz-kon said while it was good to let local students gain more overseas experience, choosing countries that functioned more maturely such as Britain or the United States might serve the purpose better.

The Legislative Council’s education panel will discuss the proposal next Monday.