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Hong Kong students flock to Taiwan universities amid protest turmoil

Main Gate of PNU Busan campus (RedMosQ/WikiCommons)
October 21, 2019

This article was originally published by Radio Free Asia and is reprinted with permission.

Faced with the prospect of loss of liberty amid continuing protests at home, Hongkongers of all ages are increasingly opting to study in democratic Taiwan, RFA has learned.

Sophia Ma, deputy head of the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office in Hong Kong said residents of the former British colony are showing more interest in universities and higher education institutions in Taiwan since the start of the anti-extradition movement in early June.

“According to what I have seen, there has been a marked increase in students attending [a recent academic fair], and I think that has something to do with recent problems we have seen in Hong Kong,” Ma said.

“I think we will likely see more Hong Kong students coming to study in Taiwan as a result,” she said.

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Applications will soon be open for students wishing to read for a bachelor’s degree at a Taiwan school, and more than 80 higher education institutions from Taiwan attended a recent academic fair at the Kowloon Bay International Trade and Exhibition Center.

Taiwan is already popular with Hongkongers: more than 1,600 students enrolled in Taiwan universities last year.

But this year, more older people are also applying to study, possibly in the hope of settling on the island after they graduate, one possible route to permanent residency that is offered under Taiwan’s immigration rules.

Lin Yu-chan, an assistant professor at the Taiwan’s Wenzao Ursuline University of Languages, said this is a recent phenomenon that has only become obvious this year.

“There have been at least 10 people today, while there were none at previous Taiwan education exhibitions,” Lin told RFA.

“So this year is very unusual: there are fathers and mothers with children who are applying to go to university in Taiwan. It’s a new phenomenon.”

High level of interest

Lin said his booth at the exhibition had run out of publicity materials halfway through the day, such was the level of interest this year.

A parent surnamed Tse who took his son to the exhibition said he wanted his son to leave the city in the wake of ongoing protests and the “political atmosphere” in the city.

Asked why Taiwan, Tse said: “The learning environment there, which is pretty ideal.”

“Many of my friends have had similar ideas, and want to send their kids overseas to study,” he said.

High-schoolers at the exhibition who spoke to RFA confirmed that the political crisis in Hong Kong is making overseas study look more attractive.

Some had plans to apply to Taiwan, while others said they would prefer the U.K., the U.S. or Canada.

One student, who gave only a surname Ng, said she wouldn’t leave Hong Kong at a time of crisis, however.

“I was born and raised in Hong Kong, and I’ve always lived here,” Ng said. “If you really love your home, you’re not going to just leave if something goes wrong.”

2,600 arrests since June

According to Sophia Ma, Taiwan universities offer lower admission requirements compared with Hong Kong schools, and offer a number of applied subjects that students find attractive, including marine sciences, agriculture and forestry.

Hong Kong police have made more than 2,600 arrests since the anti-extradition movement took to the streets in early June.

Hundreds have been arrested for violating a ban on mask-wearing in public, brought in by chief executive Carrie Lam last weekend under colonial-era legislation giving her administration emergency powers.

The decision to invoke emergency legislation has paved the way for potentially draconian controls on every aspect of life and business in the city, as it allows the chief executive and ExCo to make new laws considered to be in the public interest, including ordering the inspection and control of publications, maps, photos, and communications and communications methods.

Taiwan was ruled as a Japanese colony in the 50 years prior to the end of World War II, but was handed back to the 1911 Republic of China under the Kuomintang (KMT) government as part of Tokyo’s post-war reparation deal.

The KMT made its capital there after losing a civil war to Mao Zedong’s communists that led to the founding of the People’s Republic of China in 1949.

While the Chinese Communist Party claims Taiwan as an “inalienable”part of its territory, Taiwan has never been ruled by the current regime in Beijing, nor has it ever formed part of the People’s Republic of China.

The Republic of China has remained a sovereign and independent state since 1911, now ruling just four islands: Taiwan, Penghu, Kinmen and Matsu.

The island began a transition to democracy following the death of KMT leader Chiang Kai-shek’s son, President Chiang Ching-kuo, in January 1988, starting with direct elections to the legislature in the early 1990s and culminating in the first direct election of a president, Lee Teng-hui, in 1996.