Housing woes, funds to learn Chinese, and R&D: Hong Kong students voice budget concerns
Three students give their verdicts on finance chief’s 2018-19 budget
Whit Cheng, 22, a visual arts student set to graduate this year from the Institute of Vocational Education, hoped Hong Kong’s new budget would offer financial help to find low-cost spaces to stage exhibitions and create work.
But Cheng said housing was the most pressing need for the city and agreed with turning abandoned schools into flats.
“Housing is, after all, the most pressing problem in Hong Kong. And despite all the difficulties of being an artist here, one can always find some space if he or she is determined,” Cheng said.
Hong Kong Financial Secretary Paul Chan Mo-po proposed on Wednesday in his second budget that vacant government sites or school premises be available for use by non-governmental organisations.
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The government has set aside HK$1 billion to subsidise the cost of restoration for eligible projects.
Cheng, who specialises in Chinese ink painting, said one 300 sq ft studio unit in facilities subsidised by the government could cost HK$2,000 to HK$4,000 per month and therefore was hardly affordable for art students.
Preparing for their graduation exhibition in May, Cheng and her classmates have been struggling to find a cheap space large enough to present all their work of different forms and sizes.
But the budding artist said art came second to the problems of the public at large.
“I think it’s a good idea for the government to turn the vacant premises into residential units, and to consider art groups later,” Cheng said.
Ethnic minority concerns
Nebra Younis, a 16-year-old Hong Kong-born Pakistani girl, said the financial secretary should first check and monitor how the government’s subsidies for ethnic minorities had been used before deciding where to allocate more.
“Over the years, we have seen facilities at our school improving – better boards, newer air conditioners, but how do these help with our learning of Chinese language?” Younis said.
She is in Form Five at a secondary school in Mei Foo, where most of the students are from ethnic minorities. Schools with more than 10 non-ethnic-Chinese students have since the 2014-15 academic year been able to get an annual grant ranging from HK$800,000 to HK$1.5 million from the Education Bureau.
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But Younis and her parents did not know how the subsidies had been used to support them, especially her Chinese language learning, which she considered vital to enter tertiary education and realise her dream of being a primary school teacher.
Currently, Younis’ proficiency in Chinese is roughly equivalent to other students in Primary Four.
“Sometimes in the Chinese writing class, when I ask the teacher for a Chinese word, she couldn’t answer right away because she didn’t know the English word I was saying,” Younis said.
She suggested subsidies for ethnic minority students be used more to train teachers to teach Chinese as a second language. The government should also better supervise how the schools were using the grants, she said.
Money for university research
While Chinese University of Hong Kong engineering PhD student Kelvin Heung Ho-lam is passionate about what he is doing, there are many challenges he has to face as a research student.
These include his job prospects and insufficient resources. He does not have enough laboratory space or access to tools.
“We often have to control our spending,” he said.
While the university has 3D printers, he said it would be better if they could buy more as students often had to queue to use them.
“The ones we use are high precision, costing up to millions of dollars, so we find it difficult to ask the university for such funding,” he said.
But things are now looking up for him with the budget announcement on Wednesday, during which the city’s finance chief spoke of the government’s plan to inject HK$10 billion into the Innovation and Technology Fund.
“I think it is good. Sometimes, for big projects, we need to hire people and buy materials,” he said.
Another new measure that appealed to Heung was the plan to attract the world’s top scientific research institutions and technology enterprises to Hong Kong to conduct research and development projects, for which the government has earmarked HK$10 billion.
The student, who focuses on biomedical research, believed this would help bring more talent from around the world he could interact with.