The truth about the EU
Riots against austerity measures, soaring unemployment and a bleak economic outlook: the recent news from Europe has been somewhat gloomy.
But Europe still has its strengths, say experts in European studies. Academics from four universities - Baptist University, the University of Hong Kong, Chinese University and Lingnan University - set up the European Union Academic Programme (EUAP) last year to promote academic exchanges and better awareness of Europe.
Professor Jean-Pierre Cabestan is head of Baptist University's department of government and international studies. He thinks people should have a better understanding of the strengths of the EU, as well as the general situation there.
With plans to invite professors to give lectures, Cabestan hopes to see more joint research projects involving local and European academics.
EUAP will co-operate with other EU centres at universities in countries such as Japan, Australia and New Zealand to promote greater understanding of the confederation. The EU has allocated €1 million (HK$10 million) in funds for use over a four-year period.
"We want to expand the scope of teaching about Europe and the number of students studying in Europe," Cabestan says.
"If you look at trade, together the 27 members of the EU state form China's major trade partner, ahead of Japan and the US. We import more from China than the US, and there are growing Chinese investments in Europe.
"Greece makes up just 2 per cent of the EU's gross domestic product, while Germany accounts for 30 per cent. It's a global exporter with a solid banking foundation. If you have only a superficial view, you can be overwhelmed by the news of Portugal going bankrupt."
Britain is the destination for 170,000 local students each year. Other European countries played host to 1,477 Hong Kong students in 2011.
Options in tertiary education abound for those who want to explore other parts of Europe, says Cabestan. Countries such as France, Germany, Denmark and Sweden are offering an array of English-medium courses, and charge lower fees.
At Baptist University, students in the European studies degree programme spend their entire third year at either a French-speaking or German-speaking university.
Cabestan believes Hong Kong's links with Europe are set to strengthen. "The French would like to sell more than bags here, and Germans are better at selling technology," he says. "There is a growing EU community in Hong Kong and Asia. More are heading this way to find jobs."