More than four years ago, the Hong Kong government announced its grand vision to turn the city into a regional education hub. But a Hong Kong Institute of Education investigation shows that the government’s lack of strategies could make it a mission impossible.
When social policy expert Professor Joshua Mok Ka-ho learned of the government’s initiative to develop Hong Kong into a “regional education hub” as announced in the 2007-08 policy address, he questioned at the time whether Hong Kong would be able to accomplish this. “Our neighbouring countries are already doing it, so what can Hong Kong do to become an education hub?” asked Mok, Dean of Faculty of Arts and Sciences at The Hong Kong Institute of Education.
To investigate if Hong Kong could compete, Mok launched A Comparative Study of Transnational Higher Education Policy and Governance in Hong Kong, Shenzhen China and Singapore, in 2008. Funded by the government’s Public Policy Research Funding Scheme, the two-year study, covering Singapore, Shenzhen in southern China and Hong Kong - aimed to look at how other governments were working to capture the tertiary education market so as to build a roadmap for Hong Kong.
Mok and his research team travelled to Singapore, Shenzhen and locally in Hong Kong, interviewing government officials and administrators from transnational institutions to examine their strategies in promoting, regulating and assuring the quality of newly emerged transnational higher education programmes. What Mok and his team discovered was that while neighbouring countries had actively pursued the creation of a higher education market, the Hong Kong government just acted as a “market facilitator”, and believed that the market would grow on its own.
To assert their status as regional education hubs, the report said Singapore and Mainland China provided “preferential treatments” to attract renowned overseas tertiary institutions to run programmes or set up campuses in the countries. In contrast, the Hong Kong government merely allocated six plots of land in 2009 for the development of tertiary institutions, he said. The rise of transnational institutions is a phenomenon in Asia, especially in Singapore, Malaysia and Mainland China, as triggered by a huge demand for higher education in this region. The city will benefit from an enlarged pool of talent, and though a by product, the tuition fees from international students can boost Hong Kong’s GDP.
In July 2003, the Beijing government passed new legislation allowing the establishment of foreign tertiary institutions in China. Several prestigious universities subsequently set up campuses in China, including the universities of Nottingham and Liverpool from Britain. Last year, New York University decided to build a campus in Shanghai in association with East China Normal University. Singapore started tapping the higher education market more than ten years ago and focused on bringing in top-tier universities. Singapore brought in the world’s leading University of Chicago Graduate School of Business as well as top European MBA school INSEAD to set up campuses in the city. “Singapore wanted to tap the Middle East and Asian market, so that people not wanting to study in the US could choose Singapore,” Mok says.
Mok’s findings concluded that there has to be active intervention and encouragement from the government, and the growth of the transnational higher education market “should not be understood as a free market”. Despite being a late starter, Hong Kong can become an education hub. Four Hong Kong universities have been ranked among the world’s top 150 universities and this attracts international students, Mok said. Another key selling point is that Hong Kong is both a “studying base for understanding Asia” and “the gateway to China”, with a high level of academic freedom.
Mok, who is also a member of the government’s Central Policy Unit, urged officials to introduce preferential treatments including tax incentives, cheaper rents and better land to attract high-end overseas universities. He hoped that his findings would provide comparative insights to enhance the government’s policy making - “to promote Hong Kong into a city which embraces the importance of innovation, knowledge and talents as Primer Wen Jiabo has suggested to the HKSAR to review its competitive edge in a context of intensified global competition.”
Faculty of Arts and Sciences