Promoting unique qualities of Hong Kong can attract students from abroad

PUBLISHED : Monday, 28 November, 2016, 5:27pm
UPDATED : Monday, 28 November, 2016, 11:11pm

As an international academic who has worked in a Hong Kong university for a number of years and who has also worked in universities in the UK, the US, Japan and Ireland, I am surprised that there is shock that Hong Kong universities do not attract more international students and academics (“Hong Kong’s universities urged to attract more foreign students”, November 23). Even mid-range and leading universities in the US rarely have more than 5 per cent international students, and studying in the US is still the greatest attraction for students.

Hong Kong legislators and university administrators must still believe the hype around Hong Kong styling itself as “Asia’s world city”.

This is, of course, no longer true and it may only ever have been true at the level of international investment and banking. It was never the case in terms of local population or student population.

I have tried many times to get collaborations going with universities in Ireland and the UK. When I meet international office representatives from these international universities, they want to know how creating expensive collaborations will be seen to boost the country’s economy.

Educational links are created most often now for the purposes of industry and technology opportunities for the national economies.

International officers tell me that students may have their eyes on some Chinese universities, given the supposed economic rise of China, but that most would still rather go to mid-range US universities. Hong Kong is never mentioned by students and international office staff fail to see how they can sell links with Hong Kong universities in terms of boosting industry and technology collaboration.

I believe Hong Kong’s greatest strengths lie in its unique culture and arts, its East-West heritage, and its belief in freedom of expression. After all, these are the values and interests most young people are eager to investigate and live with.

If Hong Kong boosts its image abroad in these areas, I believe it can attract more students. However, if it loses its unique cultural identity and its respect for freedom of expression, then its universities will be seen as nothing other than mid-range Chinese universities by students and university administrators abroad.

Dr Michael O’Sullivan, associate professor, Department of English, Chinese University