Hong Kong could be Greater Bay Area’s education hub – with more SAR government help

HKSAR Government should take a more proactive role in facilitating deeper cross-border campus collaboration in research, knowledge transfer and innovation-centric entrepreneurship

PUBLISHED : Friday, 06 July, 2018, 3:03pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 12 July, 2018, 5:42pm

Beijing’s call for more intercity cooperation in the Greater Bay Area (GBA) has prompted the Hong Kong Government to urge local universities and research institutions to collaborate more deeply with their mainland counterparts and industries.

International and comparative studies relating to the GBA economy and its development have clearly indicated how the success of such endeavours depends on whether the area’s strong cluster of universities can demonstrate leading and path-breaking research, innovation and technological advancements.

However, if the Hong Kong Government is really serious about capturing the development opportunities in the 11-city economic zone, then it should adopt a more proactive role in coordinating the city’s public and private universities to work with their mainland counterparts and research institutions in the development and positioning of the GBA as the “Education Hub of South China”.

Indeed, the very rapid and significant transformation of Hong Kong’s higher education over the past two decades has resulted in the two-tier system. Based upon international evaluations, the city’s eight publicly funded universities are becoming increasingly strong in research, and six of them have been recognised by different university league tables as being among the world’s Top 200. Compared to other GBA cities, Hong Kong performs comfortably well with a cluster of world-leading universities, matching those in global cities such as London, New York and Boston. Putting Hong Kong’s leading publicly funded research intensive universities into a regional context, the HKSAR could definitely maximise its research and innovation strengths to work with GBA-based universities and other institutions – and jointly establish a leading “education hub” in the East Asia and Greater China.

A recent report by China’s Ministry of Education has also described how major research-intensive universities with “double world-class status” are mainly concentrated in Beijing, Shanghai and Nanjing, leaving the Guangdong area with less “highly rated” institutions.

So, to maximise the strengths of Hong Kong universities in the future GBA, the HKSAR Government should take a more proactive role in the quest for regional education hub status by easing and steering deeper collaboration with other GBA-based universities for research, knowledge transfer and innovation-centric entrepreneurship.

Since the Hong Kong Government’s announcement in the 2000 Policy Address that it would raise the post-secondary education participation rate to 60 per cent within 10 years, the city has experienced the massificaton of higher education, with an increasing number of high school leavers obtaining university or post-secondary education by enrolling in publicly funded universities and self-financed colleges or institutions.

Many students have also chosen to study overseas or start their learning journey in different forms of transnational higher education programmes in Hong Kong.

So, in view of the proliferation of private providers and the wide range of transnational higher education on offer in Hong Kong, the city’s government established a task force for the review of self-financing post-secondary education.

Its resulting consultation document (last month) in June 2018 raised major questions for stakeholders, such as about the specific role of the self-financing post-secondary sector – and the government’s role in its development.

Meanwhile, the Hong Kong Government should also steer the development of the self-financing institutions, by strengthening the regulatory framework to govern and monitor the quality of their programme offerings.

It should also facilitate these private colleges (by making some high-quality, private universities) to engage with other GBA-based institutions to provide professional education for the 11-city region’s rapid but diverse development needs.

Hong Kong’s public and private higher education sectors could develop new opportunities with mainland institutions in the GBA. The public universities could collaborate with neighbouring mainland institutions in high quality research, technological advancement and the nurturing of postgraduate students. The self-financing institutions could meanwhile focus on professional and vocational education.

As a result, there could be pathfinding experiences in which Hong Kong could lead the GBA’s education hub project, and thereby maximise the city’s unique strengths and position in international higher education and research to meet the nation’s pressing demands.

The quest for education hub status not only benefits the higher education sector but also helps Hong Kong to establish itself as a regional talent hub and promote innovation and technological advances, the development of which would scale up innovation-centric entrepreneurship.

Given Hong Kong’s competitive strengths in its international links; world-recognised legal system; well-established international finance centre and dynamic trade regime, the education hub project would give young Hongkongers opportunities to reach out and develop their futures in the surrounding GBA and beyond.

With a sensible adoption of “soft power”, Hong Kong could reach out for development opportunities in the GBA and considerably assert the city’s position in the regional context.

After all, international research clearly suggests the success and sustainability of global cities depends on how well they collaborate with their hinterland municipalities.

Hong Kong should therefore not shy away from capturing the GBA’s development potential in the Pan Pearl River Delta and position itself as a hub for education, talent and innovation-centric entrepreneurship.

Professor Joshua Mok (above) is vice-president and Lam Man Tsan Chair Professor of Comparative Policy of Lingnan University