City's students get creative
The government's initiative to transform Hong Kong into a cultural and creative hub has boosted the number of students enrolling on postgraduate creative industry courses in Britain.
In the 2007-2008 academic year, Britain's Higher Education Statistics Agency tracked a 10 per cent jump in Hong Kong students taking postgraduate creative programmes, such as fashion design, film and television studies, digital media and the arts, with the total reaching 320.
'With more than 200 universities in Britain versus only eight in Hong Kong, it does provide a wider range of courses and, in some cases, offers programmes not offered here and greater flexibility,' says Kathryn Chan, the British Council's education marketing manager in Hong Kong.
The interest in design courses has been so strong that the British Council, for the first time this year, launched a dedicated creative industry section at its annual 'Education UK' exhibition, which featured 77 institutions. There were 9,600 visitors to the exhibition, a 15 per cent increase from last year.
But it isn't only the wide array of courses that is attracting students. Chan also attributes the surge in popularity to a student's overall experience. 'In Britain, you have greater exposure to the wide range of cultural activities and can benefit from a diverse student body, renowned alumni and useful industry contacts,' she says.
While local universities do have high-calibre courses focusing on areas pertinent to the four original pillars of Hong Kong's economy - trading and logistics, banking and finance, tourism and professional services - their offerings generally fall short in the areas of the humanities, fine arts and arts.
For example, Chinese University is the city's only university offering a master's programmes in divinity and theology. Subjects such as gender studies, anthropology and cultural studies are rare in Hong Kong, while museum studies, archaeology, records and archives management and Middle East studies are non-existent.
That is why Chong Hiu-yeung, a former political reporter at Apple Daily, turned to the University of London three years ago. Chong, who won a Chevening Scholarship to study for an MA in near and Middle Eastern studies, says the decision to go overseas was not made entirely on the availability of the course. 'Britain is a very good place to study a second degree. It's an extremely cosmopolitan place and you end up meeting people from all over the world. You can learn a lot from them,' says Chong, who now lectures on Middle East politics at Chinese University.
The one-year near and Middle Eastern studies programme emphasises the modern period of the region through courses such as history, geography, politics, economics and anthropology.
Education professionals at the British Council say there has been a notable rise in the number of students taking courses offered by British universities in Hong Kong.
British course providers now account for 60 per cent of non-local postgraduate courses in Hong Kong, up from 53 per cent just two years ago. There are 5,400 students enrolled on master's programmes offered by British universities in Hong Kong, according to Juhanie Cheung, the British Council's transnational education manager.
The popularity of offshore education can partly be attributed to its hybrid format, which involves distance learning and work-based, and blended learning approaches. This provides students with maximum flexibility and convenience while minimising disruption to their careers.
British universities have also been partnering local institutions to offer new specialist programmes in subjects such as international business and management, strategic public management, human resources and marketing in order to satisfy student demand amid an increasingly complex and globalised business landscape.
Given the increasing number of students in this domain, the British Council anticipates students on Britain's transnational courses will globally exceed those going to the country some time this year.