Internationalisation in higher education has been garnering public attention recently, but what does it actually mean for undergraduates?
The global economy demands employees who can work comfortably together in multinational teams. It is critical that young people possess the tolerance and understanding of different perspectives to actively participate in whatever community they live or work in.
All eight of Hong Kong's publicly supported tertiary institutions have been making major efforts to encourage such attributes through, among other ways, international student exchanges that not only provide opportunities for young people to experience life abroad, but also bring greater diversity to campuses. More recently, enrolment from outside Hong Kong in full-time local undergraduate degree programmes has further raised awareness.
The moves are encouraged by the University Grants Committee. It raised the cap on the annual intake of non-local undergraduates (overseas and mainland) in first-year, first degree programmes from 4 per cent in 2003 to 20 per cent now.
While the move is a first step, achieving a balanced intake between mainland and overseas students requires more work. Non-local high school students, especially those from outside Asia, need to be made aware of what Hong Kong higher education has to offer. Student quality and geographical diversity must be maintained, and for internationalisation to work, students must be integrated into their host communities.
All this takes time. At the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, we have focused on campus integration. The university has set up "Living Learning Communities" in student residential halls, grouping together students from Hong Kong, the mainland or overseas according to their interest in, say, the arts or the environment, generating cross-cultural friendships and insights.
HKUST now sends 35 per cent of each undergraduate cohort off to one of 200 exchange partners during their undergraduate study and aims to reach 50 per cent in three to four years. In 2011-12, our students went to Europe (36.2 per cent), North America (35.2 per cent); Asia (19.1 per cent); mainland China (7 per cent); and other regions (2.5 per cent).
Students recognise the value of such a learning experience. In a recent HKUST survey, over 94 per cent of local and international exchange students rated their exchange experiences rewarding or very rewarding.
Other initiatives are also sprouting across Hong Kong campuses. Participation in international student competitions enables Hong Kong undergraduates to benchmark themselves, gain confidence and get to know their global peers. Academic links are being established around the world, along with innovative undergraduate programmes. At HKUST, a groundbreaking World Bachelor in Business programme will be launched this autumn in partnership with the University of Southern California in the US and Bocconi University in Milan, Italy. Students will live and study in all three continents and earn degrees from each of the partner institutions.
Given our highly ranked higher education sector, Hong Kong's attractive location, and its wider economic and social environment, hopes are high for further advancement of internationalised campuses for our city, helping to foster the globally minded, empathetic young people that we need for our future.
Professor Kar Yan Tam is associate provost and dean of students at Hong Kong University of Science and Technology