One of the best things about life at PolyU is its richly international flavour. Close to 700 non-local students are on the roster this year INTERNATIONAL TIES are a key part of Polytechnic University's effort to create a vibrant learning environment and ensure students achieve an all-round development. The university collaborated on academic and research programmes with more than 560 institutions across 40 countries, including the mainland, in the 2005/06 academic year. These partnerships spanned scientific research, student exchange and recruitment, summer internships, the training of doctorate students, joint academic programmes, visits by teaching staff, the joint planning of international conferences and developing teaching materials. PolyU president Poon Chung-kwong said participation in such joint efforts helped to promote the university's growth and its reputation as a world-class institution. Meanwhile, students enjoyed valuable international exposure. 'In the long run, our efforts will contribute to Hong Kong's development as an international hub for higher education, which is in line with the government's policy,' Professor Poon said. The university undertook 450 joint scientific research projects with mainland and overseas partners in the 2005/06 academic year. A collaborative international network was set up in 1995 to explore application-driven technology. Today, this network comprises 20 leading mainland universities, including those of Beijing, Fudan and Tsinghua, as well as three institutions in the United States and Britain. About 800 of the university's 1,000 teaching staff have been educated overseas or worked in other countries. PolyU receives about 200 teaching delegations every year. Short-term exchanges with foreign institutions for executive and teaching staff are also arranged. Every year, PolyU organises exchanges with 170 partner institutions across 20 countries involving 400 students. In 2004, the university launched a summer course in Putonghua and Chinese culture that has attracted a steady stream of overseas visitors. About 50 overseas visitors participate in the course every year. Non-local students are recruited for full-time undergraduate programmes with a view to diversifying the student profile and raising overall academic standards. There are 690 such students at the university at present, including 250 recruited in the 2006/07 academic year. Most come from the mainland; China accounted for about 10,000 applications received in 2006/07. The university also has 550 non-local full-time postgraduate students. Jenny Tang Kit-yi, head of the academic exchange and collaboration office, said the student exchange programme had been developing especially rapidly after the opening of the student hostel in 2002. 'Although the hostel is primarily for local students, it has still given us more room for accommodating exchange students,' Ms Tang said. 'We have reciprocal exchange arrangements with partner institutions, and this means more of our students can gain exposure abroad. We think this is an important programme. It helps our students become more independent and confident, and in turn the campus becomes more vibrant with the presence of exchange students from abroad.' According to a survey of students who had participated in the programme, an overwhelming number felt their confidence, communication and organisational skills had increased because of the experience. Ms Tang said PolyU would seek to increase the number of student exchange places to between 50 and 100 every year. Her office was also exploring the possibility of arranging internship-based exchanges to help students gain work experience overseas. PolyU has in place a 'buddy programme' in which one or more local students are assigned to help each foreign student settle in. More than 50 host families provide overseas students homes, as an alternative to on-campus accommodation. Extra-curricular cultural activities are arranged to foster interaction between local and non-local students. 'The foreign students are our ambassadors when they go back to their native countries,' Ms Tang said. 'They help promote our profile as an international university, and I am glad to say some of the foreign exchange students we've had have actually chosen to come back to do higher degrees with us.'