Hong Kong is seeing a brain drain and a population expert is saying this should be a "wake-up call" for the government to do something.
Provisional figures from the Census and Statistics Department show a net emigration of 12,400 people last year. Emigration exceeded immigration in just seven years in the past 50.
Previous exoduses were attributed to significant events in the region, but this time the reason has baffled experts.
Chung Kim-wah, a social scientist at Polytechnic University said there was no obvious reason for the high level of emigration, but pointed to the uncertainty in the city's education system with reforms that have resulted in double-cohorts this year and students fighting for limited university places. As a result many pupils are choosing to study abroad to ensure a placement in tertiary institutions.
The Security Bureau says 8,300 permanent residents left the city last year, up 15 percent from the year before.
Professor Paul Yip Siu-fai, a population expert at the University of Hong Kong warned that many of the people departing are from the middle class.
"This is really a wake-up call," he said. He said the government should take steps to ensure there would be no "structural brain drain", where emigration exceeds immigration over a period of years.
However Frederick Ho Wing-huen, former commissioner of the Census and Statistics Department had another explanation related to mainland mothers coming to Hong Kong to give birth.
He said those new mothers usually took their children back to the mainland after birth, and 60 percent of them sent their children back to Hong Kong for education.
Ho added the Hong Kong government should welcome these children and prepare for their return, saying, "If you can't get rid of them, why don't you make them valuable?"
There are many significant historical events that precipitated in large-scale emigration from Hong Kong.
During the Cultural Revolution, more people left than arrived in 1964 and 1969, and in 1966, more than 46,000 people emigrated than immigrated.
Another wave happened after the signing of the Sino-British Joint Declaration in 1984, followed by 1990 in the aftermath of the Tiananmen crackdown. The next event was SARS in 2003 and most recently in 2009 because of the economic downturn due to the financial crisis.
The high level of emigration could aggravate Hong Kong's already low birth rate at 1.04 per woman, which has already prompted concerns of labour shortages.
Other reasons could be the worsening pollution problems; more and more children are diagnosed with asthma causing families to look for places with better living environments, or they have no more faith in the government and want a place that does not have short-term thinking.
Regardless the reason the government really should take notice and do whatever they can to keep educated professionals in the city. A good start would be tackling the pollution issue. As I've said before, healthy people are productive people. It's a win-win.
Sounds pretty obvious to me, but the Tsang administration seems to think pollution is not its problem...