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Think Tank’s Blueprint: Attracting ASEAN Talent to Hong Kong Universities


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Hong Kong, long revered as a bustling metropolis and financial powerhouse, is now setting its sights on becoming a global education hub.

The Our Hong Kong Foundation, a think tank founded by former city leader Tung Chee-hwa, has put forth a visionary proposal to increase the proportion of non-local undergraduates in Hong Kong’s universities from the current 20 percent to an ambitious 50 percent. This bold move aims to attract talent from the ASEAN region and elevate the city’s stature on the international stage.


As Hong Kong grapples with a labor shortfall, exacerbated by a drop of 140,000 workers between 2020 and 2022, it has become imperative to explore innovative solutions. The think tank’s recommendations, which emerged after consultations with over 40 stakeholders, including university deans and education service providers, offer a comprehensive strategy to not only address the labor shortage but also enhance the city’s appeal to non-local students.


Redefining Student Demographics

One of the cornerstone recommendations is the adjustment of the cap on non-local students in publicly funded universities. Currently set at 20 percent, this cap would be elevated to 50 percent for both degree and sub-degree levels. While the University Grants Committee (UGC) initially proposed a more modest increase to 40 percent by 2024-25, the think tank’s proposal aims for a more ambitious transformation.


Despite concerns about a short-term surge in mainland Chinese undergraduates due to higher demand for degrees, the think tank remains confident in the feasibility of this proposal. Data from UGC-funded universities in the 2022-23 academic year showed that 75 percent of non-local students were from the mainland, with 21 percent from other Asian countries and 4 percent from the rest of the world. While mainland students may initially dominate, the think tank anticipates greater diversity among non-local students over time, thanks to their holistic recommendations.


A Diverse Student Body

To foster diversity and attract a broader range of international students, the foundation proposes expanding scholarships for students from the ASEAN and Belt and Road Initiative countries. This includes increasing the annual quota for Belt and Road scholarships from 100 to 300, a crucial step as Hong Kong marks the 10th anniversary of the Belt and Road plan—a central government initiative aimed at connecting economies across Asia, Europe, and Africa.


Over the past seven years, the Education Bureau has already awarded HK$118 million worth of scholarships to students from Belt and Road Initiative countries. Expanding this program would further enrich Hong Kong’s student population with global perspectives and talents.


A Holistic Approach to Transformation

The Our Hong Kong Foundation’s vision for Hong Kong’s transformation into a global education hub doesn’t end with adjusting student demographics and expanding scholarships. It also includes leveraging the Northern Metropolis to foster school-industry partnerships, seeking mutual recognition of higher diploma qualifications between Hong Kong and the mainland, and increasing the availability of commercially run student hostels.

These recommendations collectively paint a holistic picture of a vibrant and dynamic educational ecosystem that can attract students from diverse backgrounds and create a talent pool to drive Hong Kong’s future growth.



Hong Kong’s journey towards becoming a global education hub is a visionary one, driven by a commitment to innovation and excellence. The Our Hong Kong Foundation’s proposals, ranging from increasing non-local student proportions to expanding scholarships and fostering partnerships, lay the groundwork for a dynamic transformation. While it is acknowledged that there may be short-term challenges, the long-term benefits of a more diverse and globally connected student body will undoubtedly strengthen Hong Kong’s position on the world stage. As the city moves forward with these transformative recommendations, it is poised to realize its potential as a premier destination for education and innovation.

Zain Saleem
Zain Saleem
Zain Saleem is an Islamabad-based Group Editor who plays a crucial role at The Think Tank Journal.

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