An Education in Hong Kong

(This article appeared as a sidebar to the feature article, A Bridge to China, of the Winter 2015 SSA Magazine.)

In addition to working with universities in Mainland China, SSA has built a strong relationship with Hong Kong Polytechnic University (PolyU). Hong Kong has its own social welfare system and social work education programs that, compared to Mainland China, are more like the West in terms of field education and licensing standards. Working with PolyU gives SSA an opportunity to both learn about social welfare in Hong Kong and to help students at PolyU think through how to work with their colleagues on the Mainland.

David Ip, associate head of the Department of Applied Social Sciences at PolyU, and Robert Chaskin, a professor at SSA, designed an exchange program that serves as a platform for students from both schools to learn from one another. Ip explains that his students (most are from Hong Kong, with the rest from Mainland China and elsewhere, including Europe) need to learn more about Mainland China and they appreciated the chance to hear American perspectives.

At the first intensive institute, “Countering Social Exclusion: Actions in China, Hong Kong and the United States,” held for two weeks during the summer of 2013 at PolyU, students examined local issues such as asylum seekers, minorities and migrants coming from the Mainland and compared issues concerning the internal migration of rural workers to the cities. Hong Kong faces severe housing shortages, says Ip, “fueled by increasing property prices as a result of external capital inflow and internal demands for housing, particularly among young couples. There is also a growing interest in investing in property when interest rates remain low as a way to accumulate wealth and hedge against inflation and global financial uncertainty.”

MaPoPo Farm

Among the sites they visited in Hong Kong was the Ma Po Po Community Farm in Ma Shi Po in the New Territories (one of the three regions of Hong Kong), where they met with local tenant farmers who face the threat of eviction from development. Workshops and lectures covered topics like housing and education for migrant workers and their children, the social economy and community enterprises, asylum seekers, and health inequality and policy.

Chaskin and Ip also traveled with the students to Kunming in the Yunnan Province in western Mainland China to compare how poverty and migration are viewed and responded to in a different region. “Given the erosion of the old social safety net, especially for the migrants whose benefits are tied to the household registration system [people cannot access services or education outside of the area in which they are born], the state is hoping that social workers can help alleviate some of the tensions surrounding these changes,” Chaskin says.

A second institute was held last December. The program, “Urbanization, Migration and Poverty: State and Community Responses in Hong Kong and Mainland China,” included an additional trip to Guangzhou, Mainland China’s third-largest city. “I was amazed by the growing strength of civic pride [during our trips to visit social workers on the Mainland] and how people came together to figure out how to help one another. This inspired me and it inspired my students and the students from SSA,” Ip says.

“The trip was really eye-opening for me. Although I’m from China, I can’t say I understand the social welfare in specific areas in China, nor in Hong Kong,” says Lori Long, AM ’14, who attended the first institute and is now the manager of senior services at the Chinese Mutual Aid Association in Chicago.

“It pushed me to think about all the issues that are happening at home, and where do I want to dedicate my focus—in China or the U.S.?” she says. “For students from the U.S., I believe [the institutes provide a] really good opportunity for them to grow their cultural competency knowledge.”