Changing times, changing prospects. study and work in the GBA

//vol.14-2 On the agenda

  • Findings of several recent surveys about studying and working in the Greater Bay Area (GBA) or elsewhere in mainland China show changes in levels of interest.
  • Some attitudes appear to have become more positive although there is ongoing concern about fitting into a society with a different culture.
  • The surveys add to the evidence collected during HKFYG surveys last year that showed salaries and stability are important for young job hunters but unfamiliarity with mainland Chinese culture is a very significant detractor.

  • 近期多項調查顯示,青年對於到大灣區或內地其他地區工作或升學的意欲有所改變。
  • 雖然有部分青年擔憂未能適應內地社會環境及文化差異,但對於到大灣區發展的態度漸趨正面。
  • 青協去年一項調查反映,年輕求職者最重視工作薪酬及穩定性,但對內地文化不熟悉使他們卻步。


As the generation that grew up through turbulent times in Hong Kong comes of age, policymakers are urging young people to seriously consider being prepared to relocate to mainland China for study or work. How realistic is this at a time when many of their mainland counterparts aged 16-24 are faced with unemployment? Running at 18% in April – the jobless rate for youth there is at its highest since official records began. Many mainland say “bai lan.” In other words, why not stay at home and watch TV all day.

This matches the concept of 「lying flat」 or adopting a low profile if you have little choice rather than struggling to survive in a highly competitive rat-race. Not only privileged youth but a quarter of young people from low-income Hong Kong families have reached the same conclusion to a recent survey by the Society for Community Organisation. Youth’s response has been criticized by Hong Kong’s education authorities but HKFYG surveys last year showed that work-life balance was a top factor when choosing where to live and work.

Federation surveys last year also explored similar topics and were reported in the June and September issues of this magazine. Let’s look now at what the other surveys say.


Go to Study*

The Hok Yau Club – an NGO, Hong Kong Baptist University, and MWYO – a think tank, have all recently published figures that reflect an uptick in interest in studying, being an intern or working in mainland China, including the Greater Bay Area (GBA). Retrospective figures can also be found in the March 2015 issue of Youth Hong Kong.

For a snapshot of interest since 2018, there are regular Hok Yau Club surveys which usually have a sample of about 2,000 students.

  • In 2018, it concluded that 19% of students were considering enrolling in mainland China programmes, a 2% rise on 2017.
  • By 2021, the figure had dropped to 11%, although about 20% more Hong Kong students applied to mainland universities compared to 2020. The surge was linked to a broader increase in interest in studying at universities outside Hong Kong – even as competition for spots at local institutions declined.
  • By 2022, about 44% of DSE students said they would consider mainland study. 70% of those willing to go said the GBA was their first choice. The top three reasons were “academic performance”, “future development opportunities”, and the “variety of courses on offer.”
  • Among those who were not interested, the three top reasons were “differences in political and social environment”, “cultural differences” and “the study environment” over half showed no interest whatsoever.


Go to work

A survey undertaken last year by the Hong Kong Baptist University found that among 2,000 young Hongkongers aged 21-40, nearly half of whom had a university degree, considered the government’s Greater Bay Area Youth Employment Scheme to be unattractive. The majority thought that the educational requirements of the scheme should be relaxed.

Instead of getting a job, more students wanted to go on work visits or internships in the bay area rather than moving to live there. Nearly half realized that understanding the mainland China market would be an advantage for future careers, but still had major concerns about adapting to mainland work culture, policies and regulations.


Look for the upside

In December last year, a MWYO survey found that 12.5% of the 1,002 respondents aged 18-34 were interested in taking full-time jobs in the GBA, a slight drop from 13.4% in a similar survey two years previously.



  • Among those interested, about two in three believed that Guangdong cities offered better career prospects than Hong Kong, which they felt had become less competitive.
  • Some thought working in the GBA would help broaden their horizons and provide good learning opportunities.
  • Others were drawn by the lower living costs and higher incomes.
  • The survey also found that those in senior positions or with mainland work experience were more attracted to moving to the bay area.



For the majority not interested in moving, nearly half cited personal reasons, including their lack of fluency in Mandarin and having to look after family members at home. Negative perceptions of the mainland were a key factor that put off young people too such as:

  • medical and health care
  • information freedom
  • social security
  • environmental protection
    food safety
  • democracy and rule of law

Nevertheless, researchers say there were still 180,000 young people willing to move, and more were actively seeking information and jobs.


Employment scheme İmpact study

The MWYO think tank has also been involved in a longitudinal impact study to assess the effectiveness of the Greater Bay Area Youth Employment Scheme. The study was in collaboration with the Hong Kong General Chamber of Commerce and included online surveys and in-depth interviews and the aim was to understand the views, expectations and difficulties encountered by both employers and employees taking part in the scheme.


Key findings


Most employers interviewed in the study complained about difficulties in administrative and human resource matters related to the government scheme even though they learned more about the skills of newly hired graduates.

  • 82% said the scheme helped them understand the level of job-related skills of the young graduates they hired
  • 63% cited an increase in their human resources workload as result of their participation in the scheme
  • 50%s found the application process for employer allowances too complicated
  • 44% encountered difficulties in dealing with corporate tax arrangements related to the scheme
  • 31 % had problems dealing with the personal tax matters related to the scheme


  • 93% reported that the Scheme supported their career development
  • 81% mentioned that the Scheme supported their life development beyond
  • 78% considered that the Scheme supported their professional development


Some MWYO recommendations

  • Repackage the Scheme as the “GBA Talent Scheme” and raise the allowance amount to attract more highly competitive applicants
  • Allow only Hong Kong permanent residents to apply rather than including all Hong Kong residents who are lawfully employable in Hong Kong
  • Set a quota for Hong Kong employees graduating from mainland China universities
  • Widen eligibility criteria to admit all graduates within the previous five years
  • Improve the efficiency of the application and allowance application process by making better use of online platforms


A new chapter?

The central government recently announced a major stimulus package to shore up the economy. It included offering companies subsidies for hiring fresh graduates who will enter the job market in record numbers this year. The Shenzhen Government website was upbeat, saying that the city had “attracted some 229,100 talents and accepted 90,300 fresh graduates.” Shenzhen is the city of choice for many young professionals. Nevertheless, the economic slowdown is severe and economists remain cautious. It can be expected that young people will feel the same.



*Hong Kong students can apply directly to eligible mainland universities based on their DSE exam results. Compared to the millions of mainland students who need to compete through the National College Entrance Examination, being able to apply directly based on DSE exam results is an easier path to university, signifying preferential treatment towards Hong Kong students.