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Some Singaporean undergrads pull out of exchange programme to Hong Kong universities amid unrest

SINGAPORE — Some students at the Singapore universities who had been planning to go on exchange to Hong Kong have put their plans on hold following the outbreak of protests in the city.

Some Singaporean students are pulling out of planned studies in Hong Kong, but most are going ahead, despite the continuing protests there.

Some Singaporean students are pulling out of planned studies in Hong Kong, but most are going ahead, despite the continuing protests there.

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SINGAPORE — Some students at the Singapore universities who had been planning to go on exchange to Hong Kong have put their plans on hold following the outbreak of protests in the city.

The protests escalated over the weekend, forcing the cancellation of all flights at Hong Kong International Airport on Monday (Aug 12). Although the airport reopened on Tuesday, protesters continued to occupy the airport and many flights remained cancelled or delayed.

Two universities here reported a small number of students pulling out of their exchange programmes to Hong Kong, while one said that all its students were going ahead despite the unrest.

The National University of Singapore (NUS) told TODAY in an email response on Tuesday that of the 130 students who are expected to participate in its student exchange programme to Hong Kong, fewer than 10 have withdrawn.

Meanwhile, the Nanyang Technological University (NTU) said that so far, three students have requested to withdraw from their exchange programme to Hong Kong. The university said that it typically has more than 40 students going to the city on exchange each academic year.

An NTU spokesperson said that these students may re-apply to go to Hong Kong for their exchange programme during the next recruitment exercise in November.

The Singapore Management University (SMU) said that of its 17 students headed to Hong Kong for their exchange programme in the coming semester, none had indicated their intention to cancel or postpone their trips as of last Friday.

“We will continue to monitor the situation, maintain contact with our partners in Hong Kong, and take guidance from the travel advisories released by (Singapore's) Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA),” said an SMU spokesperson.

UNIVERSITIES TAKE STEPS TO ENSURE STUDENT SAFETY

Universities in both Singapore and Hong Kong said they are seeking to ensure the safety of exchange students through measures such as offering safety and emergency briefings, and registering students with International SOS, a firm that provides medical and security assistance to travellers.

NTU said that it advised its students to stay away from areas of ongoing demonstrations and to exercise caution if they are unexpectedly caught in the vicinity of large gatherings or protests. It also told students to monitor local media reports for updates and to follow the instructions of local authorities.

NUS said that students going to Hong Kong on exchange will receive the latest alerts and advisories to keep them updated.

“NUS students have been advised to stay vigilant and safe, as well as keep themselves updated on the developments by noting travel advisories from MFA and the social media platforms of the Hong Kong Police Force,” it added.

Universities in Hong Kong said that while they did not expect the protests to affect the number of exchange students this year, they too were taking steps to ensure the safety of overseas students who were coming to their universities during this period.

A spokesperson for Hong Kong Polytechnic University said that out of more than 800 students who attend the university on exchange each year, about 20 are Singaporeans. The university said that it did not expect the protests to affect these numbers.

“On the contrary, we recorded an increase in the inbound number in the coming academic year, while the withdrawal number is similar to previous years,” said the spokesperson.

Demonstrations were confined to a “limited area” and the university would “provide advice, guidance and support to local and exchange students”, the spokesperson said. It will also remind students via email to stay away from high risk areas when necessary.

The University of Hong Kong told TODAY in an email that it has a reception counter at Hong Kong International Airport to ensure that foreign students are accompanied safely to student dormitories.

“We have orientation sessions for all students, both local and non-local, to familiarise them with the situation in Hong Kong and the challenges and opportunities they will have as students at the university,” said the spokesperson.

The university, which sees about 30 Singaporeans coming to the university each semester on exchange, would also be “as flexible as possible as usual” to allow exchange students to defer or cancel their visits, she said.

STUDENTS GOING AHEAD TO HONG KONG, BUT WILL STAY AWAY FROM HOTSPOTS

Several Singaporean students interviewed said they were going ahead with their exchange programmes to Hong Kong despite the protests.

An SMU student, who wanted to be known only as Ms Loh, said that she had made the decision to go to the University of Hong Kong in March as classes will be conducted in English and the courses offered would be relevant to her intended career.

The fourth-year law student at SMU — who plans to fly to Hong Kong next week — said that while she was concerned about the situation there, she had chosen to go ahead with travel plans as “it is easier to go ahead rather than just withdraw from exchange”.

Ms Loh, 22, said that she would be at a disadvantage if she cancelled her travel plans as she would not be able to get the modules that she wanted if she chose to stay back at SMU. She was also going ahead to Hong Kong as she had already paid for the accommodation and flight tickets.

She added that she would cancel her travel plans only if MFA advised Singaporeans against travelling there. To date, MFA has advised Singaporeans to avoid specific areas where protests are planned and to remain vigilant. It also encourages Singaporeans in Hong Kong to e-register with MFA.

As for the precautions she would take while she was there, Ms Loh said: “We plan to stay in a group of about four to five, and not take part in the protests. We are planning to totally avoid the protest areas as well. Maybe I’ll just stay in the library and study.”

Mr Niampreet Nehal, a Singaporean third-year law student at the Queen Mary University of London, will be jetting off from England to Hong Kong on Sept 1. He said that while he had decided to go to Hong Kong well before the protests broke out, he was not worried that the unrest would affect him.

Mr Nehal, 23, said that his friends who were based in Hong Kong had informed him that he was unlikely to be affected unless he joined the protests. 

He added that he would be doing his exchange at the University of Hong Kong, which is based on Hong Kong island, and was “somewhat separated from the conflict going on in the city”.

Mr Nehal said that travelling to Hong Kong during this period was also “more relevant” to his degree.

"I think it's exciting for a law student like myself to have the opportunity to study in Hong Kong… With Hong Kongers protesting the extradition bill, it is interesting to view how they go about doing so. To live in Hong Kong and observe the people fight for their beliefs is an experience you cannot put a price tag on," he said.

Related topics

Hong Kong Hong Kong protest travelling

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