In Hong Kong, global aims need state aid

Report says the city's institutions require help to assert international strength. John Morgan writes

January 6, 2011

Hong Kong's universities need state funding for internationalisation to build on their "remarkable opportunity" to help the West "understand China", according to a new report.

Hong Kong's University Grants Committee (UGC), which represents largely publicly funded institutions, offered advice to the government of the Special Administrative Region of China in a report published last month.

The UGC's recommendations in Aspirations for the Higher Education System in Hong Kong will be of interest to the wider world of higher education, as the body is made up of sector experts from across the globe, as well as from Hong Kong.

Its members include Malcolm Grant, provost of University College London, Glyn Davis, vice-chancellor of the University of Melbourne, and Yang Fujia, president of the University of Nottingham's campus in Ningbo, China.

The report makes 40 recommendations - and 10 of them are about internationalisation. These cover factors such as: funding; the need for extra hostel accommodation to help local and non-local students integrate; increasing overseas exchanges for home students; the need for universities to enhance home students' bilingual or trilingual abilities in Cantonese, Mandarin and English; and better salaries and housing allowances to attract top international academics.

Judy Tsui, UGC member and vice-president (international and executive education) of the Hong Kong Polytechnic University, said internationalisation was "a key theme" of the report.

She stressed the UGC's belief that funding for internationalisation in universities should be "extra".

"Hong Kong as a city should establish its overall image and brand as an education destination for overseas students," she added.

The report highlights China's growing economic and political power, saying: "Hong Kong's universities have a remarkable opportunity to become principal locations for understanding modern China...Hong Kong's proximity to mainland China, the quality of its universities and a recognisable and palatable environment (not least in terms of the rule of law and academic freedom) suggest that it can evolve its vital function as an international intermediary."

Stop the traffic

But the report also notes that some foreign universities will simply head straight for mainland China. "Decisive action is required if Hong Kong is not to be bypassed and its real advantages discounted," the report says.

On practical measures for internationalisation, the report argues that, "as a matter of urgency", universities should develop international strategies and that this should be the responsibility of senior managers. Universities should also agree with the UGC key performance indicators on internationalisation.

The report says that "the government should work closely with the institutions, provide funding for internationalisation and, most urgently, provide more hostel places for local and non-local students".

On funding, it adds: "There is a limit to the extent to which existing university budgets can accommodate necessary initiatives in this area."

john.morgan@tsleducation.com.

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