Hundreds of mainland and international exchange students will not be coming to Hong Kong after three more universities revealed on Friday that incoming exchange programmes had been cancelled amid the ongoing anti-government protests.
Among the eight publicly funded universities in Hong Kong, the University of Science and Technology (HKUST) said last month that exchange students would not be joining in the coming semester.
On Friday, Polytechnic, Baptist, and Education universities confirmed they had taken similar action.
Baptist and Polytechnic universities started the second term this week after suffering damage to campus facilities last year when protesters occupied the campus.
The remaining four, the University of Hong Kong (HKU), as well as the City, Lingnan and Chinese universities, made it clear their incoming exchange programmes would go on, even as HKU and CityU warned of a decline in the number of inbound exchange students.
Outgoing student exchange programmes at the eight universities remain unaffected.
Hong Kong's universities, many of which are among the world's top 100, have been popular destinations for exchange students around the world, especially those who wanted to experience the mix of Eastern and Western cultures in the city.
But amid the violent protests, especially at CUHK and HKUST, scores of mainland and foreign students have left and returned home.
Staff and students believe the universities' decisions were understandable, even though there were concerns whether the halt on receiving incoming exchange students could affect the university's global rankings in the long-term, as one of the many rating indicators include the proportion of inbound and outbound exchange students.
Baptist University said incoming exchange students had been temporarily suspended after discussions with partner institutions "considering the impact of the events in recent months on exchange students".
A Baptist University spokeswoman added: "The university will continue to monitor social conditions, maintain close liaison with partner institutions, and make relevant arrangements for exchange students again when it is deemed appropriate."
Spokeswomen for Education University and PolyU confirmed the suspension of their exchange programmes for a semester.
Students and teaching staff were divided over the cancellation of exchange programmes.
Aidana Turlybekova, a 20-year-old PolyU Year Two student from Kazakhstan, said her family had expressed worries over the situation in Hong Kong, so she understood the reason to cancel exchange programmes, but felt it was a pity as the university was still generally safe.
"We really get to know new (exchange students) every semester, but maybe it's the right thing to do for now, only for one semester," she said.
But a Year Four student and student representative on PolyU's governing council Owan Li worried that the suspension of exchange programmes could impact the university's rankings.
"The decision is not ideal because one of the major factors of the universities' global rankings is internationalisation, which would be negatively impacted by the drop of exchange students," he said.
According to the latest edition of the Quacquarelli Symonds (QS) World University Rankings, CityU, PolyU, and Baptist University, ranked 19th, 25th and 58th respectively in Asia after jumping a few places, but HKU, HKUST, and Chinese University, each slipped one place, to third, eighth and 10th in Asia.
As many as 40 countries and jurisdiction had issued travel warnings or alerts for Hong Kong during the protests, which first erupted in June triggered by the now-withdrawn extradition bill.
Baptist University senior lecturer Bruce Lui Ping-kuen expected if the exchange programmes were only suspended for the current semester, the impact on rankings could be limited. But he said it was unnecessary to cancel all inbound exchange programmes in the second term.
"I believe from the university's perspective, they might be concerned about exchange students' safety, but I think there is no need for schools to be overly sensitive since the situation (in Hong Kong) has calmed down recently," Lui said.
Meanwhile, CityU and HKU, which have not suspended their programmes, predicted incoming exchange students would be affected.
A spokeswoman for HKU, which takes in more than 1,200 incoming exchange students each year, told the Post they expect to see a "significant drop in the overall number of inbound students on exchange" for the second semester.
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