Education Post hosted the first ever Higher Education Festival at the Hong Kong Innovation centre on June 17th. The event brought together representatives of prestigious universities in Hong Kong, China and the rest of the world. In addition to the exhibition, there were three stimulating panel discussions and 14 information sessions, making the festival a fantastic forum for parents and students to make better informed decisions regarding higher education. Notably, the “Opportunities and Challenges in Overseas Studies for Hong Kong Students” panel discussion took an in-depth look at the various benefits, pitfalls, and opportunities for local students considering going overseas. The panellists included Dr Siegbert Klee, director of German Academic Exchange Service for Hong Kong and Macau; Sophia Chan-Combrink, head of Education and Society at the British Council; and Alfonso Ballesteros, secretary general of the Spanish Chamber of Commerce in Hong Kong. The discussion was moderated by Ben Young, assistant editor of Education Post. The panellists all agreed that Hong Kong students, particularly those that have lived here their entire lives, could benefit from the broadened perspective that comes with studying in foreign country. “Everyone knows about the UK and the US and all of the great universities they offer,” said Klee, who is currently teaching as part of a study abroad programme at Hong Kong Baptist University (HKBU). “But there are many countries, especially in continental Europe, which have become more attractive in recent years, with Germany being one of them. It is now the third ranked country in the world for international students and we have over 350 thousand students coming from overseas.” Chan-Combrink (left) and Klee (right). Remarkably, many Hong Kongers appear unaware of the fact that German universities do not charge tuition fees, making it an enticing option for students who do not have the financial means to attend US or UK universities. “I get asked all the time at HKBU: ‘How come Germany doesn’t have tuition fees? How is that possible?’” Klee said. “My answer is that in Germany we do not see education as a product that we are selling to customers; we see it as more of a social right. Right now, whether you are a German student or an EU student or international student, nobody pays. All that matters is whether or not you are qualified enough.” Ballestoros has noticed some stark differences between Hong Kong and European students in terms of the way they approach education. “Students here are very smart and this is reflected in their excellent marks,” he said. “But they often approach education with a strictly results-driven attitude. They are a little bit shy in expressing their opinions, and I sometimes feel as if they are just acquiring knowledge rather than processing it and using it to come up with their own ideas.” He added that in Europe, the culture is very different. “People seem to have an opinion if they don’t know what they are talking about,” said Ballestoros with a smile. “I think the answer lies somewhere in the middle. That’s why when students go abroad and experience different cultures, they always seem to find a great balance.” For Chan-Combrink, a priority was to reassure families considering enrolling in university in the UK they needn’t worry about the recent political turmoil. “Brexit gets mentioned a lot, but a recent poll showed that 95 per cent of UK universities want the same amount or more international schools included in their student bodies,” she said. “In addition to economic benefits, they often cite things like greater cultural diversity, mixing, and greater talent as some of the many reasons why international students, including those from Hong Kong, are very welcome in the UK.” The exhibitors were pleased with the festival, which drew a large crowd early on despite typhoon conditions. "I was impressed that the event attracted the targeted parents and students to pay a visit to the booths even though the weather was poor" said Dr Lawrence Chan, executive vice president of the Technological and Higher Education Institute of Hong Kong. "The talks were very useful and informative." One keynote speaker was the vice president of Lingnan University, Joshua Mok, who believes that there needs to be more publicity for events such as the Higher Education Festival, so that students can learn more about the wide variety of Higher Education options Hong Kong has to offer. "Lingnan's liberal arts education equips students with knowledge and skills appropriate for the 21st century workplace," he said.