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Hong Kong is part of China, but is it like China? Overseas employers and students might say yes, after all, more than 16 years have passed since the former British colony’s return to the mainland. But Hong Kong business schools insist an education in the Hong Kong special administrative region is so different that students should place it in a
different category.

The students
There are distinct differences between Hong Kong Chinese students and their mainland counterparts, TJ Wong, dean of CUHK Business School at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, He says his school attracts the cream of the crop from China who have very strong fundamental skills in English, Chinese and mathematics. Hong Kong Chinese students, adds Prof Wong, tend to have a stronger global view and are more willing to speak out in class.

Mainland students tend to value listening to their superiors more, he says.

Sachin Tipnis, executive director of MBA programmes at the University of Hong Kong, notes that mainland and Hong Kong Chinese students bring vastly different backgrounds to the classroom. Many Hong Kong students work in the financial services industry, he says, and they also have more exposure to the whole region. Mainland Chinese students are not only more country specific, he says, they also have different corporate backgrounds. “In Hong Kong, not many people are connected to manufacturing,” he points out.

Sean Ferguson, associate dean of masters programmes at HKUST Business School, also thinks Hong Kong students have a broader view, but says HKUST has made efforts to recruit mainland Chinese students who will not be reticent about contributing. “Five to 10 years ago that was definitely the stereotype, so we changed what we’re looking for.”

Mainland Chinese students represent valuable future contacts for students hoping to do business in the greater China region. Clearly, a mainland Chinese school will offer most opportunities in this respect, but mainland students also make up between 10 per cent and 25 per cent of full-time MBA students at the three highest-ranking homegrown business schools HKU, CUHK and HKUST.

Business links
Hong Kong business schools concede that a school based in Shanghai or Beijing is currently a better place to learn about doing business in China.

“It’s a trade-off. Obviously you can learn more about being in China by being there.” says Kalok Chan, acting dean of HKUST.

But Hong Kong schools also say that the territory is a good place to come to learn more about doing business with China. “We want students to remember that business is global,” says Mr Tipnis.

Southern China opportunities
All three schools have their eyes on southern China and say students should expect growing expertise in those economically prosperous provinces closest to Hong Kong, but which currently have no good business schools.

CUHK appears to be ahead of its peers in southern China. It is opening a campus in Shenzhen, north of the border with Hong Kong. The first intake of undergraduate business students will be in September.

Job prospects
A significant differentiating factor is also Hong Kong’s preferential visa environment and the widespread use of English. Mr Tipnis says every graduate student is entitled to apply for a Hong Kong work visa. He says that 60 per cent of graduates from HKU’s business school remain and work in the region. In addition, English is widely spoken in Hong Kong and so language is not the barrier it can be for many students studying in China.

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