Hong Kong's universities must create a truly international student and faculty mix if they are to stand out among competitors in the region, a British education expert has said.
Phil Baty, editor of the Times Higher Education World University Rankings, said the city's focus on developing partnerships with mainland scholars and institutions was beneficial to the universities, but such concentrated efforts could compromise Hong Kong's bid to internationalise its higher education sector.
His remarks came as Times Higher Education announced the inaugural Asian version of its university rankings. Times Higher Education Asia University Rankings 2013 was based on indicators used for Western universities. It placed the city's top institute, the University of Hong Kong, behind Japanese and Singapore institutions.
HKU came in third, behind the National University of Singapore and the top-ranked University of Tokyo.
"There is a potential risk that Hong Kong's universities are too focused on the mainland in their recruitment [of students and staff] and exchange," Baty said.
"We are, however, aware that it's important to have a strong relationship with the mainland as [the city] can become the bridge between the East and West."
But Hong Kong had to create a "truly international" environment for it to compete with other places such as Singapore, he said.
HKU statistics showed that 581 of its 1,000 professorial staff were from outside Hong Kong. Some 30 per cent of these came from the mainland, and about 22 and 24 per cent were from Europe and North America, respectively. Undergraduates from across the border made up 52 per cent of the overseas student population, while 24 per cent were from Europe or North America.
Another five of the city's institutes made Asia's top 100 list - the University of Science and Technology, ranked 9th; Chinese University, 12th; City University, 19th; Polytechnic University, 33rd; and Baptist University, 50th.
Baty said the fact that six Hong Kong universities made the top 100 meant the city was a "superstar" in the Asian higher education sector. "Its six top-100 institutions dominate the higher levels of the Asia University Rankings, giving Hong Kong institutions more ranking points on average than any other nation bar Singapore," he said.
The ranking also found that Taiwan had more top-100 universities than the mainland, with 17 institutes in the league table. The mainland had 15.
An HKU spokeswoman said the survey would serve as a "reference". "As the choice of ranking criteria and methodologies may vary significantly from one league table to the next, different university ranking systems should be regarded with a degree of ambivalence," she said.