A top American business school is set to relocate its Singapore campus to Hong Kong next year after the government offered it a 17,000 sq ft heritage building on Mount Davis for a one-off premium of just HK$1,000.
The grade-three historic building has been set aside by the government on a 10-year renewable lease for the University of Chicago Booth School of Business, pending clearance from town planning and other bodies.
The former detention centre - initially a clubhouse for British soldiers before being used to incarcerate political prisoners - will host the school's executive MBA programme. It is not expecting to move in until 2016, but the course, which costs students HK$1.2 million each, is due to start in the city next June at an as-yet undetermined location, William Kooser, associate dean of the programme, said yesterday.
A key reason behind the move is Hong Kong's proximity to the mainland and other important markets in the region. "We are looking for greater presence in North Asia. Hong Kong's proximity to [the mainland], the world's second-largest economy, is particularly attractive," said Kooser.
Singapore, where the school has had a base since 2000, offered more focus on Southeast Asia, he said. Hong Kong would enable them to attract students from the mainland, Taiwan, Japan and South Korea, he added.
Kooser admitted that Chicago Booth, the second-oldest business school in the United States, would not have been able to afford to set up shop in the city without the government's help.
But he added that the school would invest up to HK$500 million in the non-profit campus and in heritage maintenance.
The Education Bureau has given approval for the self-financing Asia Executive MBA programme to use the former Victoria Road Detention Centre, pending approval from accreditation, planning and preservation bodies. "The establishment of a campus of Chicago Booth in Hong Kong will enhance the city's position as a regional education hub," Secretary for Education Eddie Ng Hak-kim said.
The school has one other overseas campus, in London. Students in the three campuses in Chicago, London and Hong Kong will get the same degree.
The school beat Centennial College, which is run by HKU, to win the site. Its president in Hong Kong, John Malpas, said the college had planned to use the location for expansion. "Chicago Booth is well known, highly ranked and has a good reputation," Malpas said. "But there are other similar programmes here in Hong Kong. There is going to be very strong competition."
Hong Kong is the third best city worldwide for overseas undergraduates, according to a report published on Tuesday by The Economist Intelligence Unit. It measured the financial investment, educational costs, work experience opportunities and cultural offerings.
The city came behind Montreal and London, but ahead of regional rivals Singapore and Seoul, which were ranked 12th and 17th respectively.
[Correction: An earlier version said Centennial College is based in Canada. It is based in Hong Kong and run by the University of Hong Kong.]