Face Off: Should the ‘One Belt, One Road’ scholarship scheme be approved?

Helen Wong (JR)

Each week, our two teenagers will debate a hot topic. This week:

Helen Wong (JR) |

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Charlotte Chong Hoi-kwo, 18, CCC Mong Man Wai College

Many people complain that local students lack international vision. The government’s HK$1 billion “One Belt, One Road” scholarship scheme would expose them to new cultures, and help improve their knowledge of world affairs.

At present, not many foreign students study in local universities. But under the new proposal, more international students would come to Hong Kong, while more local students would be able to go abroad to enhance their skills and broaden their knowledge.

Giving local students more opportunities to experience foreign cultures firsthand would lead to increased harmony among different ethnic groups in the city. What’s more, when different cultures come together, creative industries flourish, there will be more jobs, and people will be happier.

The scholarship scheme would be a big boost for the city’s economy. With Hong Kong being an international city, we need to stay competitive to maintain our edge over our rivals in the region. Most students who are chosen for the scholarship scheme could become leaders of their respective fields in the future. This would create a wide-ranging social network within “One Belt, One Road” countries, helping to carry out projects and build up business with each other. The scheme could also create new overseas markets. Surely, shouldn’t we all look at the bigger picture, and consider its long-term benefits?

So far, the Hong Kong government has only signed a contract with Indonesia to allow 10 students to come here to study. But this is a great starting point. I agree there are safety issues in some “One Belt, One Road” countries, such as Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan. But let’s not forget that the main focus of the scholarship scheme is cultural exchange and networking, which is a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Students will learn a lot during their stay in these countries.

There’s a Chinese expression: “It is better to travel 10,000 miles than to read 10,000 books.” This is a time to explore something unique, so the proposed scheme should be passed by the Legislative Council as soon as possible.

Helen Wong, 15, Dallam School

The “One Belt, One Road” scholarship scheme aims to promote cultural integration and broaden locals students’ international perspective. I think it is a huge waste of money.

Bringing in top foreign students to study in Hong Kong and sending local students abroad is not a bad idea. But my main problem is the cost. When our own education system is in need of urgent improvements, we’ll be pouring in HK$1 billion into a programme that would benefit only a handful of local students each year.

We have so many issues that need to be tackled, for example, subsidising kindergarten school fees; increasing the number of publicly-funded tertiary education places; and promoting small-class education in secondary schools.

Despite the huge investment, there are doubts whether the scholarship scheme would help boost Hong Kong’s economy or encourage our youngsters to embrace “internationalisation”. Even though the scheme would attract top global talent to study in local universities, the students are free to return to their home countries at the end of their stint here. So we spend our money to educate them here and then they leave Hong Kong. What’s the use?

Most importantly, is Hong Kong really ready for the “Belt and Road” cultural exchange? The answer is simply “No”. According to the 2011 census, people from ethnic minority groups comprise six per cent of the city’s population. They rarely interact with locals due to their different cultural backgrounds and lifestyles. Considering this situation, it’s unlikely that exchange students and local students will mix well, especially when only 10 foreigners are subsidised each year. Although the scholarship scheme boasts that it will facilitate cultural integration and expand students’ “scope, contacts and network”, I don’t think it would happen.

In addition, the plan to send local students to universities in the “Belt and Road” region may not be realistic. Given the choice, most of them would prefer to continue their studies here, or in countries like England, America, Canada and Australia. Studying in Asia, Africa, or the Middle East is not very appealing.

Also, the plan to inject HK$1 billion into the scholarship programme seems to violate Article 106 of the Basic Law, which states that “The Hong Kong Special Administrative Region shall use its financial revenues exclusively for its own purposes”. I believe that the money should be used to improve aspects of local education that needs urgent attention. I wouldn’t bet on the government’s “One Belt, One Road” scholarship scheme being a success; it could turn out to be an utter failure.