Kazakhstan university may offer scholarships to Hong Kong students under ‘One Belt, One Road’

Other speakers at forum organised by Polytechnic University also called for open-mindedness from local youth towards belt and road initiative

PUBLISHED : Friday, 25 November, 2016, 5:59pm
UPDATED : Friday, 25 November, 2016, 11:09pm

One of the heads of a Kazakhstan university has said her institution is considering offering scholarships to Hong Kong students in a bid to strengthen connections with the city under China’s “One Belt, One Road” initiative.

Professor Loretta O’Donnell, vice-provost of Kazakhstan’s Nazarbayev University, was speaking at the ‘Nurturing Talent and Building Capacity in Supporting the Belt and Road Development’ forum, organised by Polytechnic University on Friday.

Also present was Stephen Ng Tin-hoi, chairman of the Hong Kong General Chamber of Commerce, who called for open-mindedness towards the policy and for people to see it as an opportunity for cultural and business exchange, instead of as political propaganda.

“The spirit of ‘One Belt, One Road’ is about knowledge, testing assumptions and finding what unites us,” said O’Donnell. “What can possibly be wrong with that? There will be business opportunities, intellectual opportunities and research opportunities.”

O’Donnell said Hong Kong has been offering scholarships to Kazakhstani students, so the university wanted to do the same for students there. But she said details about the plan have not been worked out yet.

O’Donnell said the university only had 14 out of some 4,000 students from overseas. The institution plans to increase the number of international students to about 20 per cent of the total enrolment by 2020.

Hong Kong’s future is not in Hong Kong but around us
General Chamber of Commerce chairman Stephen Ng Tin-hoi

She added that Hong Kong can benefit too by attracting Kazakhstani students.

“[The scholarships] are very generous, very timely and I think very carefully constructed, because the best students in Kazakhstan, I would argue, are as good as the best students in Hong Kong and in China,” O’Donnell said.

“We think we’ve got human capital, and I think the government of Hong Kong knows that.”

In June, Hong Kong’s Education Bureau set out a plan for a seed fund of HK$1 billion to provide – through investment returns – about 100 scholarship places for students from countries under the belt and road initiative to pursue their undergraduate studies in Hong Kong or vice versa. Each scholarship recipient will get up to HK$120,000 a year.

But student union leaders were sceptical about the plan, calling it propaganda to “please Chinese leaders”. They urged the government to use the fund to increase government-subsidised degree places for local students instead of giving it to overseas students.

Personal links is the key to success of one belt, one road initiative

General Chamber of Commerce chairman Ng said the city needed to attract more talent from overseas as there were “serious vacancies” in sectors such as construction, health care and aviation.

“Most businesses in Hong Kong are still trying to learn about the belt and road policy and what it means,” Ng said at the forum. “My answer is that it promises to open a new frontier for growth, which is sadly lacking in other parts of the world.”

Ng addded that Hong Kong youth could also seek personal development and more job opportunities from countries involved in the policy, because “Hong Kong’s future is not in Hong Kong but around us”.

Wu Wai-lok, a management student at Polytechnic University had visited some countries under the belt and road initiative on trips organised by the institution. She was hopeful about developing her career in these places, she said, because finding an ideal job locally had been increasingly hard for young people.