Hong Kong’s universities should look beyond the mainland
With more than three out of four non-local students enrolled in the city’s public universities coming from the mainland, a Baptist University promotional drive to more than double the number of non-mainland foreign students is a positive move
When I taught a journalism course at a local publicly funded university around the time of the Occupy protests, one thing I found most disturbing was the barely disguised antagonism on campus among some local and mainland students.
I have been told that it happens in other local universities as well. One factor behind the problem is no doubt the rising anti-mainland sentiments in recent years, especially among young people. This is further encouraged by radical localist politics. I can’t help but think, though, that it was also partly created by the myopia or “short-termism” of university administrators in the past two decades.
Like our business leaders in the tourism and service sectors who have bet the farm on mainland tourists, they have banked on mainland students to fill their foreign student quotas and coffers. This has created a misperception of “us vs them”, that somehow, mainland students are taking away academic places and resources from the locals.
Don’t get me wrong. I am all for integration with the mainland, and I welcome mainland tourists as well as students. But this does not mean translating “international” into all things mainland. A basic investment rule is diversification – don’t put all your eggs in one basket.
Unfortunately, our universities don’t really have a foreign-student population. According to the government auditor last year, more than three out of four non-local students enrolled in the eight public universities are from the mainland.
In the 2015-16 academic year, the Education University and Baptist University had the lowest numbers, accounting for just 0.3 and 0.7 per cent, respectively, of their student populations. The University of Science and Technology had the highest with 8.4 per cent.
In a positive move, Baptist University is launching an overseas promotional drive in an effort to more than double the number of non-mainland foreign students in the next five years. It has just 11 first-year non-mainland international students in the current academic year. However, 40 such foreign students – or 4 per cent of the first-year intake – are set to start in the next academic year, from September. The school hopes to double that figure to 10 per cent over the next five years.
I hope they succeed. In fact, all our universities should do the same. A truly international student body would not only broaden the cultural horizons of both local and mainland students, but also serve as a buffer to ease tensions.