• Sun
  • Dec 21, 2014
  • Updated: 7:16pm
CommentInsight & Opinion

Hong Kong's universities must innovate or fall behind

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 08 October, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 08 October, 2013, 12:10am

Higher education is a competitive business, for students, university leaders and governments. It is especially so now that so much importance is given to annual global rankings that compare and contrast institutions on a range of criteria. Hong Kong has not fared as well as might be expected on one of the most respected lists. Our leading university has fallen to fourth in Asia and another dropped from the top 200 in the world. Given the gains of counterparts on the mainland and elsewhere in the region, it is not in our interests to fall behind rivals.

It is all about wanting the best for Hong Kong. Leading universities attract top students who, should they stay after graduating, can help drive the economy and improve lives. Our leading universities have long dominated regional rankings but are now facing stiff competition, as shown by the annual survey by Times Higher Education magazine. The list released on Tuesday placed our most prestigious institution, the University of Hong Kong, down eight places globally to 43rd and a position lower in Asia behind competitors from Singapore, Japan and Australia. While the University of Science and Technology (HKUST) and Chinese University improved their standings, City University fell from the top 200.

Having so many highly placed universities is a considerable achievement for a single city. That the University of Hong Kong outshines its top mainland rivals, Peking and Tsinghua universities, has long been a matter of pride; it is the reason many of the nation's brightest students go there. But when it comes to the rankings list, the saying that pride comes before a fall holds true. Not keeping up with the times has meant that the competition is fast catching up and even passing by.

Universities have to be constantly innovating; in so competitive an environment, they cannot afford to rest on their laurels. HKUST's president Tony Chan Fan-cheong made that plain recently, warning that they needed to fight for more funding and support from business to stay ahead. Attracting top scholars and having the best facilities for learning and research is not good enough. The government can help by offering incentives, but the business and commercial sectors also have a significant role. These, and other ideas, should be considered by authorities and the University of Hong Kong's new vice chancellor, Professor Peter Mathieson, and other higher education leaders to ensure we do not fall behind.


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This article is now closed to comments

For Hong Kong universities to function well it must stay relevant at least in few selected fields if not all. Good funding is prerequisite to stay relevant. Perhaps Hong Kong universities should do the same like those in the US and get yearly donations from their respective alumni as their major source of funding besides investment. The ‘self-supporting’ system provides incentive for university to teach well and its graduates to financially maintain their alma mater to the end of good reputation for all. A big endowment is welcomed as long as no string is attached from the donor.
I wrote repeatedly that I always question the real ranking of universities in hk, it is still ranked higher than it deserves. Why? There is no major technology or medical related local companies listed here at all. No major VC are working with local startups at all. If the universities are so highly ranked above Korean, Japan, China, Taiwan or even India. where is our equivalent of Samsung, LG, Sony, Toyota, HTC, Tencent, infosys..etc...? Education always drive the local industry as you see how Standford, Cornell, and UC Berkley were helping Silicon Valley for Apple, FB, Yahoo, Cisco, Intel, Tesla, Oracle, etc etc...it is time for universities in HK to focus on startups and making renovation, rather than on rankings to get complacency.
Hk is so much behind in technology just look at online shopping is almost non exist yet our rents are so high. Even you goto a small town in US of less than 100k people, they are using so much technology HK is still decade behind. Honestly. Every shops I go in my small town in US, there are free wifi even on the beach. The church I attend has online streaming and iphone and Android apps too. Their websites are all great and transactional. Even big corp in Hk such as Fortress or Parknshop, had you tried to shop in their website? Horrible. Check out Walmart, Publix or Target, u will see the major differences.
People may argue it is convenient shopping in HK. No and No. It is only a wrong perception.
hard times !
of course,our business sector and those rich tycoons have the responsiblities to donate more to our higher institutions so as to make them have the competitive edge when compared with universities elsewhere in the world, especially in Asia.Now our oldest university here has fallen in global rankings and what the President of Hong Kong University of Science & Technology,Professor Chan Fan-cheong said was right that our universities need innovation and sufficeint funds to do more researches and update their facilities plus recruit the top talents to teach here in our universities.Higher education contributes to the well-being of Hong Kong as a whole and our society needs highly-educated youth to work in all vital sectors.
I think the major reform needs to be increasing the quality requirements of students from all levels, which means a lot fewer students admitted. In addition, university standards must be raised. However, the problems rests not just with universities but with the whole school system which does not adequately prepare students for higher education.
All this criticism and yet when some academics say that the incoming Vice-Chancellor is not good enough, the public condemns them. How is HKU to improve without outstanding leadership?


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