Cross-Border Schooling in Hong Kong

By XU Tongling

Table of Contents

1.    Introduction

2.    Background

3.    Impacts on the Education Systems in Hong Kong

4.    Challenges faced by Cross-Border Students

5.    Discussion and Recommendations

6.    References

7.    About the author 

1.    Introduction

Children of mainland Chinese parents born in Hong Kong are legally granted permanent residency which entitles them to abode in Hong Kong and social benefits. Since 2003 an influx of pregnant women from Mainland China giving birth in Hong Kong has increased. This has led to much debate primarily focusing on the local health care system and implications for the broader social services system. In particular, the impact on the education system is also of significance. This entry discusses issues and implications of cross-border schooling in Hong Kong.

2.    Background

In the context of Hong Kong, after its return to China in 1997, people from Mainland started noticing the benefits of giving birth in Hong Kong, such as freedom from the one-child policy and support from a relatively more generous social welfare system, both of which are argued to contribute to the phenomenon. In 1979, the Chinese government introduced the one-child policy, with the intention to reduce the rapidly growing population by limiting Chinese to only one child (Information Office of the State Council of the People’s Republic of China, 1995). However, traditionally in Chinese culture, parents preferred several children to increase and ensure support for the household and to continue family lineage. Since the policy was applied only in Mainland China, Hong Kong was an ideal nearby destination for giving birth for families who wanted more children. In addition, these children are born with permanent residency which entitles them to abode in Hong Kong and access to its social benefits such as free education and subsided health care. 

Director of Immigration v. Chong Fung Yuenin 2001 acknowledged that children born in Hong Kong should be given permanent residency regardless of the status of their parents, while the Individual Visit Scheme allows mainlanders to visit Hong Kong on an individual basis with less restrictions than earlier. In 1997, the total number of babies born in Hong Kong to Mainland women was 5,830 (9.8% of total births) which increased to 10,128 in 2003 (45.4%), and more than tripled to 37,253 in 2009 (45.4%)(Yam, 2011). This phenomenon has had a strong impact on many aspects of the Hong Kong social system. The influx increased the burden on the health care system and caused a shortage of baby products and obstetric resources (e.g., maternity beds, qualified midwives, and specialist obstetricians) (Yam, 2011). This resulted in criticism and stigmatisation and exacerbated tensions between Hong Kong and Mainland China in the post-handover era. Due to public pressures, the local government suggested that all public and private hospitals should stop accepting non-local pregnant women's delivery bookings from 2013, thus banning Mainland mothers from giving birth in Hong Kong. This decision became known as the ‘Zero-quota Policy’ (GOVHK, 2012a). As a result, the number of babies born to Mainland mothers in Hong Kong dropped dramatically.

3.    Impact on the Education System in Hong Kong

Hong Kong’s high-quality education also plays a role in the decision of Mainland parents to give birth across the border. According to a survey conducted by the Hong Kong Census and Statistics Department (CSD), high quality education was the most decisive factoraccording to Mainland parents (CSD, 2011). The perception that Hong Kong has a better education system than Mainland possibly could be explained by three reasons. 

First, teaching in Hong Kong is more student-oriented. Teachers respect and encourage students’ individuality, curiosity, and creativity rather than diminishing them (Huang, 2017). Second, due to its colonial history and status as an international city, Hong Kong has its own unique multilingual and multi-cultural advantages in education. Learning in an environment with three languages (Mandarin, Cantonese, and English) and studying with peers from different cultural backgrounds develop students’ multilingual competencies and foster a sense of global citizenship. Third, Hong Kong is seen as a good stepping-stone for students to study overseas or emigrate to the US and UK. The qualifications students receive in Hong Kong secondary education (e.g., the DSE, A-level, AP, and IB) are all widely accepted by higher education systems in many countries in the world (Hong Kong Examinationsand Assessment Authority, 2015). However, the situation is different for the equivalent qualifications received in Mainland. 

The recent decrease in birth rate in the past years has caused many schools in Hong Kong to face the risk of closure and the threat of unemployment for many teachers. It is argued that the situation could be possibly moderated by the increase of cross-border education. However, such school-aged children mainly targeted schools in districts near the border between Hong Kong and Shenzhen, which largely aggravates the competitive situation of school enrolment where limited school places in these areas fail to meet the growing demand. Recently, a primary school in the same district received more than 300 applications for 15 seats in Primary 1 (Ming Pao, 2017). The growing competitiveness of school place increases cross-district schooling of local children. In some cases, local students were allocated to schools which are more than thirty minutes away by train instead of just five minutes’ walk from home (Zhao, 2016). It is reported that 145 children living in North District were allocated to distant districts in 2012, which increased to more than 200 in 2016 (GOVHK, 2012b; Zhao, 2016). 

The increase of cross-border school-children not only adds pressure to local education systems but also threatens local schools’ sustainable development. In order to keep up with the influx and relieve the burden of targeted districts, local authorities issued some measures and policies. For example, in the North District several new schools were built and existing schools enlarged class size, opened more classes, and converted rooms originally built for other purposes into new classrooms to meet the greater demand (GOVHK, 2012b, 2013a). Locals are concerned that these measures only alleviate the demanding situation in the short-term without solving long-term implications. Additionally, parents worry that a larger class size increases pressures and workloads onto teachers which may in turn affect education quality and children’s development (Sing Tao Daily, 2013a, 2013b). A drop in student enrolment is expected in 2019 and a gradual decline of students afterwards. Thus, newly-built schools, expanded classrooms, and increased number of teachers will become unnecessary. This situation is exacerbated by the low birth rate in Hong Kong. As a result, many schools will be at risk of closure and teachers – at risk of unemployment. 

4.    Challenges Faced by Cross-Border Students

Cross-border students are often criticised for unduly benefitting from the Hong Kong welfare system. However, they face challenges in using these resources. As their families are often based in Shenzhen, the children have to cross the border to attend school in Hong Kong every day by taking coaches, nanny buses, or public transportation mostly without their parents’ company, which exposes them to dangers of traffic accidents and crimes (GOVHK, 2011). In addition to safety issues posed, cross-border schooling raises concerns about the growth and academic development of students. Daily cross-border travelling is time- and energy-consuming— often taking up to three hours. The children spend significantly more time on the road than their peers who study in Shenzhen and/or are based in Hong Kong, which results in less time for sleep, family communication, and social activities (Lam, 2015). This has been seen to fuel disengagement in studies and hinder healthy growth and holistic academic development. 

In 2013, the local government introduced a new policy on school allocation, specifically targeting cross-border school-children. These children will be allocated within a ‘school net’ which consists of 3,000 places from 122 schools in 8 districts across Hong Kong, and near-by school allocation was prioritised for local children (GOVHK, 2013b; Zhao, 2016). As a result, rather than clustered in certain districts, cross-border children were allocated sporadically in various districts, some of which are further away from the border (Zhao, 2016). This made some cross-border children’s daily-commute to school even longer and more burdening than before. Furthermore, lack of sufficient language skills and overall understandings of Hong Kong’s culture posed many difficulties for cross-border children to socially integrate to the local communities (Lam, 2015). Differences in culture and values between the two sides make it harder for these children to form their identities and values. 

Having experienced that cross-border schooling is not as beneficial as expected and even exhausting, many parents expressed strong wishes to transfer their children to schools in Mainland. However, due to the status as Hong Kong permanent residents these children cannot have Mainland household registration. Absence of Mainland registration means that they do not have access to public education resources in Mainland China even though they are born to Mainland Chinese parents. Although private schooling in Shenzhen is an option to ‘rescue’ these children from the ‘mire’, not all families can afford the high tuition fees (Su, 2017). In April 2013, Shenzhen government announced that local public schools will start accepting students from Hong Kong and Macau on an accumulated point basis (Su, 2017). Although this is an improvement, the extent to which public education is available remains restricted. Parents also expressed concerns and hesitations as policies for public education at higher levels remain unclear (Su, 2017).

5.    Discussion and Recommendations 

In 2015, the United NationsGeneral Assembly adopted 17 Sustainable Development Goals. Goal 4 highlights the need to ‘ensure inclusive and equitable quality education’(United Nations, 2015). Current policies seem ineffective in achieving this goal in the context of Mainland-Hong Kong border. From cross-border students’ perspective, the access to public education in Mainland remains limited to a certain extent. At the same time in Hong Kong, nearby school allocation is prioritised for local students, which makes cross-border schooling more exhausting. This, together with the issues of safety, social and cultural maladaptation, and identity formation, has repercussions for students’ physical, mental, and academic development. 

From a Hong Kong perspective, the influx of new students not only adds pressure to the local education system but also threatens local schools’ development. Limited school availability in certain districts fails to meet the demand, resulting in many local children being burdened with cross-district schooling. School expansion seems to alleviate the demanding situation short-term; however, it leaves abandonment and inefficiency of schools to be a future issue. To achieve the goal of inclusive and equitable quality education, Hong Kong and Mainland authorities need to work together to ensure barriers to access education for all children are removed, while schools and teachers need to build a healthy and inclusive environment to ensure successful learning of their students.

6.     References

Census and Statistics Department (CSD). (2011). Babies Born in Hong Kong to Mainland Women. Hong Kong Monthly Digest of Statistics. Retrieved from

GOVHK. (2011, June 15). LCQ10: Cross-boundary Students. Retrieved from

GOVHK. (2012a, May 16). LCQ2: Non-local Pregnant Women Giving Birth in Hong Kong. Retrieved from

GOVHK. (2012b, June 6). LCQ3: Primary One places in the North District. Retrieved from

GOVHK. (2013a, February 6). LCQ6: Primary One Places in the North District. Retrieved from

GOVHK. (2013b, August 15). Press Releases: Transcript of Remarks by Secretary for Education.Retrieved from

Hong Kong Court of Final Appeal. (2001). Final Appeal No.26 of 2000 (Civil) the Director of Immigration and Master Chong Fung-Yuen (an Infant by His Grandfather and Next Friend Chong Yiu-Shing). Retrieved from 

Hong Kong Examinations and Assessment Authority. (2015). Recognition of HKDSE Overseas Studies. Retrieved from

Huang, X. (2107, August 26). Bushi lushan zhen mianmu?! Cong neidi jiaoyu gongzuozhe de guandian he jiaodu kan zhonggang liangdi xuexiao jiaoyu de butong [Fail to See the Truth?! See the Differences between Mainland and Hong Kong Education from the Perspective of a Mainland Education Practioner]Retrieved from不識盧山真面目:中港二地學校教育的不同/

Information Office of the State Council of the People’s Republic of China. (1995). Family Planning in China. Retrieved from

Lam, B. (2015). Kuajing xuetong de kunju yu chulu [Difficult Situation of Cross-boundary Students and Solutions]. Hong Kong Teachers’ Centre Bulletin.88. Retrieved from

Ming Pao. (2017, Jun 3). Shuangfei gaofeng xiaoshui xiao 300ren zheng 15 komenwei xiaoyipaiwei fangbang zhonggang jiazhang gekong huhong [300 Anchor Babies Compete for Fifteen Seats in a School in Sheung Shui; Results of Primary One Allocation Released, Mainland and Hong Kong Parents Argue for Each Side Over the Media]. Ming Pao. Retrieved from

Sing Tao Daily. (2013a, March 23). Beiqu xiaoyi xueer jiaban jiapai [A Primary School in the North District Increased Number and Size of Classes]. Sing Tao Daily. Retrieved from

Sing Tao Daily. (2013b, March 23). Jiaoshi yali zeng [Increased Pressures on Teachers]. Sing Tao Daily. Retrieved from

Su, X. (2017). Shenzhen Parents with Hong Kong-born Children Shunning Mainland Schools. South China Morning Post. Retrieve from

United Nations. (2015). Sustainable Development Goals. Retrieved from

Yam, B. (2011). Cross-border Childbirth Between Mainland China and Hong Kong: Social Pressures and Policy Outcomes.Journal of Multidisciplinary International Studies8(2). doi: 10.5130/portal.v8i2.1846

Zhao, S. (2016). Learning, the Hard Way. South China Morning Post. Retrieved from

About the Author 

XU Tongling

MEd, The University of Hong Kong