Challenges of being an education hub

PUBLISHED : Monday, 08 April, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 08 April, 2013, 10:08am

Hong Kong has what it takes to be an education hub, recently released international research has shown.

The city has some of the best conditions to attract both foreign institutions and students to make a hub a reality. These include regulations to ensure the quality of courses and favourable financial incentives and visa conditions.

Many countries want to be hubs, but at the British Council's Going Global 2013 conference, held in Dubai last month, it was Hong Kong that came out as one of the star performers, according to two new studies conducted by the British Council and Dr Jane Knight, the "hub specialist" from the University of Toronto.

A hub, according to Knight's definition, involves attracting a large number of students, providers and research centres for cross-border education, training and research. Among the reasons for a government to do this are to internationalise and modernise its educational system, build a skilled workforce, attract foreign investment, and increase its competitiveness.

Many of these motivations are as true for Hong Kong as other aspiring hubs. Although it has strong local universities, the supply of places falls well short of demand. In 2011, government figures showed about 38,300 students were enrolled in around 1,160 non-local courses registered with the Education Bureau, from Britain, Australia and other countries.

These courses, known as trans-national education (TNE), have helped Hong Kong extend access to higher education and raise the skill levels of young people. They are part of the hub in operation, supported by policies to ensure quality and an option for local accreditation.

The latter not only secures confidence in the quality of these courses, but also enables their students to access the same grants and loans as those in local institutions. With these incentives, more students can be attracted, and then more institutions will be drawn to the hub - a strategy identified in the British Council's research titled "The Shape of Things to Come 2: the Evolution of Transnational Education".

However, local universities also play a key role in Hong Kong's hub status, as Dr Eden Woon, vice-president for institution advancement at Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, made clear at the Dubai conference. Unlike many hubs, the city has strong local institutions, which attract students from elsewhere, particularly the mainland.

Hong Kong's universities are increasingly reaching across the border into the Pearl River Delta for research and teaching activity, where they can collaborate with both mainland and international institutions - a massive draw for those from overseas keen to develop their China research links.

Currently, mainland regulations prevent more of its students studying in Hong Kong. But according to senior officials at the China Academic Degrees and Graduate Education Development Centre, that will soon change, as a local accreditation system for non-local courses is in place, which has allayed China's concerns about the quality of education its students might receive.

Recently in Beijing, the British Council it announced a decision was now pending for China to recognise these qualifications, allowing Hong Kong to let mainland students enrol in such courses.

Next, however, would be the topic of where to house them all.

Katherine Forestier is director of the consultancy Education Link