3-year decline in number of Hongkongers applying for UK universities, UCAS data shows

The number of Hong Kong students applying for universities in the United Kingdom has dropped three years in a row, sliding from a peak of 6,400 to 5,130 this year, official data shows.

But the figures might not fully reflect the overall number of applicants from Hong Kong, as British admission authorities on Thursday said students who relocated to the country through a bespoke immigration pathway might have declared themselves as UK domiciled, resulting in their applications not being accounted for as originating from the city.

The Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS), a centralised platform used by students to apply for higher education institutions in the United Kingdom, said 594,940 people had sent their applications before the deadline last month, down by 0.3 per cent compared with last year.

Data also shows international applicants rose by 0.7 per cent from 114,910 to 115,730.

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Britain introduced the BN(O) migration pathway in response to the implementation of the national security law. Photo: Bloomberg

The admissions service reported that the number of applicants from mainland China showed the largest growth, rising from 27,710 in 2023 to 28,620 this year, followed by Turkey with an increase of 710 applicants and Canada by 340.

Hong Kong, as well as Nigeria and India, was among the places that saw a drop in applicants. Only 5,130 students from the city applied for UCAS during the latest round, sliding from 5,680 in 2023, 6,010 in 2022 and a peak of 6,400 in 2021.

The number of applicants from the city declined over the three-year period despite more young people moving to the UK with their families though British National (Overseas) visas.

Britain introduced the BN(O) migration pathway in response to the implementation of the national security law in Hong Kong in 2020.

Number of Hongkongers applying for UK universities falls for second year in row

But UCAS on Thursday told the Post that Hong Kong applicants studying in Britain might have declared themselves as UK domiciled under “area of permanent residence” on the platform.

“It is therefore likely that people from Hong Kong taking up BN(O) status who have then gone on to apply through UCAS may declare themselves as UK domiciled. We don’t have specific stats published on this though,” it said.

Students from Hong Kong moving to the UK have to pay international tuition fees before they secure settled status. Some groups representing Hongkongers have advocated for home fee status for BN(O) migrants.

Fewer Hong Kong students apply to British universities

Robert Halfon, the UK minister for skills, apprenticeships and higher education, last month said students who gained settled status part way through their course would qualify for support and home fee status for the remainder of their course.

It means BN(O) visa holders may need to reside in the UK for five years to secure home fee status, which will give them domestic student benefits, according to a research briefing document from the UK Parliament released last month.

In contrast, Scotland announced last year that BN(O) visa holders were eligible for home fee status after three years of residence, which would give them access to student support, including free undergraduate tuition.

As of last September, 184,700 Hongkongers have been granted visas, according to UK government figures. Successful applicants and their dependants are allowed to live, work and study in Britain, with the option to apply for permanent residency after living in the UK for five years, followed by citizenship a year after.

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