Global market booming but HK must 'adapt or miss out'

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 09 December, 2006, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 09 December, 2006, 12:00am

The global higher education market is expanding at a fast and furious rate but universities in Hong Kong and elsewhere will have to adapt constantly to gain and maintain their share of it.

A Hong Kong delegation to an international conference organised by the British Council in Edinburgh, Scotland, was told that the drive to achieve knowledge economies had left traditional market leaders, the US, Britain and Australia, looking over their shoulders at new competition in Asia.

Addressing the conference, Going Global2, Sir John Daniel, president and chief executive officer of Commonwealth of Learning, Canada, said: 'The numbers are exploding as the expansion of tertiary education becomes a major route to developed status. A forecast of 120 million students by 2020 may be reached by 2010.'

China now had more tertiary students than the US and India was coming up fast in the rear view mirror. With demand outstripping the growth in capacity in many developing countries, the market for international students would continue to grow.

Student mobility had nearly tripled since 1980 and doubled since 1998, with about 2.4 million students studying abroad in 2004.

The conference was told that to meet capacity, developing countries were rapidly expanding university places and international collaborations, and establishing joint academic programmes, promoting student exchanges, undertaking joint research projects and allowing foreign universities to set up joint or independent campuses.

E-learning systems would fill some of the gaps in future - one in four tertiary students in India was already studying remotely and the New Delhi government was hoping to push that up to 40 per cent.

Heading the Hong Kong delegation, president of the Hong Kong Institute of Education Paul Morris said the real surprise was the powerful emergence of India and the effort Britain was putting into developing research and exchange partnerships there.

'Britain is putting #12 million (HK$182.4 million) into India, Hong Kong virtually zero. If you look at the Australians, the University of New South Wales alone has multiple offices in India.'

Equally startling was the one-way traffic in international student recruitment towards Britain, US and Australia. The latter sent about 7,000 students to study abroad but took in nearly 200,000.

He said: 'The argument that the international experience is good for students, giving them the opportunity to broaden their horizons and see another culture, should apply to students from the English speaking countries as well.'

The reluctance of British students to travel was making it difficult for Hong Kong universities seeking to create truly reciprocal partnerships with the UK. Hong Kong University had only 30 British students on its books, for example, but Professor John Spinks, senior adviser to the vice-chancellor, said it was hoping a new bursary scheme, run by the British Council, would stimulate an influx.