Mainland students flee to Shenzhen, some to campuses

As mainland students flee Hong Kong’s embattled university campuses for the safety of neighboring Shenzhen, a spotlight is being shone on the relationship between the Hong Kong universities and their affiliates across the border.

Fearing that they could become targets of the anti-government protesters who have turned their campus into a battlefield, mainland students staying at the Chinese University of Hong Kong in  Sha Tin have found themselves among the more fortunate, as the university has a Shenzhen campus that opened its doors to them from late yesterday.

Yesterday morning, Hong Kong’s Marine Police helped more than 80 mainland students leave the campus in Sha Tin. Two boats were sent to a pier on Science Park Road near the Marine Police North base, which took them to Sai Kung, where the students took coaches to the mainland, SCMP reported. Hong Kong police later confirmed the assistance provided to the mainland students, saying that the students had themselves sought their help.

It is not known how many ended up going to the CUHK campus in Shenzhen’s Longgang district, but it appears that many did, as reports suggest “hundreds” of students from Hong Kong have been turning up there.

Shortly after the students started showing up, CUHK(SZ) announced it would provide temporary accommodation to all mainland students coming across from the Hong Kong campus. It is not known, however, how long they will be able to stay or where exactly they will be accommodated.

There are more than 4,000 undergraduate and postgraduate students studying at the Shenzhen campus of CUHK. Established in October 2012, it is run at similar standards to the Hong Kong one, offering many of the same courses, including those in science, engineering, economic management and social science, according to its official website.

Not only CUHK students have been turning up there. A third-year student from Hong Kong Polytechnic University, who preferred to stay anonymous, said she had stayed up all night on Tuesday and finally taken an early train to Shenzhen from the Kowloon West station. She, too, went to the CUHK campus in Longgang, where a friend took her in.

“We were targeted,” she said, referring to reports circulating on social media that mainland students’ names were on lists being disseminated by Hong Kong protesters. (This has not been verified.)

Five of Hong Kong’s other leading universities also have research-focused affiliates in Shenzhen. Clustered in the heart of the hi-tech district, in Nanshan, they opened in 2011: The University of Hong Kong Shenzhen Institute of Research and Innovation (HKU-SIRI), which has also offered to provide temporary accommodation to the university’s mainland students fleeing Hong Kong; the HKUST Shenzhen Research Institute (SRI); the Polytechnic University Shenzhen Base; the City University Shenzhen Research Institute; and the Baptist University Institute for Research and Continuing Education.

HKUST has recently broken ground on an ambitious new project in Guangzhou’s Nansha district, and it has a research institute nearby that opened back in 2007, the HKUST Fok Yin Tung Research Institute.

The university has not said anything about accommodating mainland students leaving its Hong Kong campus. It has, however, been running a special shuttle bus service every 15 minutes from its campus to the Elements shopping mall in Tsim Sha Tsui – where the cross-border bus station to Shenzhen is located.

“While we are not aware of any imminent threat to campus safety, we understand some staff and students have the desire to leave campus. Please rest assured that the university will be flexible in dealing with academic matters for all staff and students, and should not worry about these issues,” reads an internal email from HKUST, as quoted by SCMP.

Other organizations in the mainland have been offering a hand to the fleeing students. Most prominent has been the Shenzhen Youth Community, a branch of the Communist Youth League in the city, which has announced it will provide free accommodation up to seven days in 12 hostels across the city for fresh graduates or current mainland students coming from Hong Kong universities.

The organization’s post has been widely circulated among mainland students who are leaving or considering leaving the embattled city. By late yesterday, “hundreds had applied online” to live in the facilities, according to a Youth League official from the Nanshan district, adding that while the facilities in the district were running out of capacity, they were arranging more spaces for incoming students.

A number of mainland-based alumni groups of Hong Kong universities, such as those of Shanghai-based Fudan University and Beijing University of Aeronautics and Astronautics, have put up posts in WeChat groups, the primary communication channel among mainland students, offering to sponsor the students in transportation and accommodation.

There are still many mainland students staying in Hong Kong, trying to decide whether to join their compatriots across the border.

Some are choosing to continue their studies online. Although all in-person classes have been suspended, HKU, HKUST and Hong Kong Baptist University have announced online courses and exams will be made available. CUHK is the only one so far to have completely ended the current semester. It said it would resume the courses in January 2020.

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