Government should step up support for education hub

Ronald Ling, University of Hong Kong

We should invest in universities to keep our competitive edge

Ronald Ling, University of Hong Kong |

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Students attend their graduation ceremony at Fudan University in Shanghai.
Exciting news: 63 universities on the mainland are allowed to enrol Hong Kong students without the requirement to take the nationwide college entrance exams. This policy benefits students who are facing intense competition for admission into a local university. More options are open nowadays, as Taiwan has announced a similar policy of exempting Hong Kong students from college entrance exams. Despite all the positive factors, we must also look at potential warning signals.

Students in Hong Kong have always had plenty of choices to study abroad. Top students travel around the globe to seek high-quality education. Competition for talented students has become more and more intense. Different universities in the region, and now on the mainland as well, are doing very well in attracting top students.

The government always highlights its intention to build Hong Kong into the best international education hub in Asia. Considering the outflow of students and failure to attract foreign talent, the government must take stronger measures to support the development of local universities.

Financial measures like providing generous scholarships, which is done on the mainland, can definitely help to lure top students. Nonetheless, the fundamental issue is how to raise the reputation and quality of local universities. They have been accused of chasing blindly after ranking. With limited resources, teaching staff are required to do more administrative work. More resources are devoted to promotion and public relations. At the same time, universities are opening numerous self-funded programmes. All this showcases the difficult situation of local universities due to a lack of financial support from the government and short-sighted planning.

There is probably only one way to increase the competitiveness of local universities, and that is to nurture them into becoming international research universities. All top universities in the world are positioned as research universities, which means they uphold both the value of research and importance of quality teaching. Research requires enormous resources. But it contributes to the enhancement of knowledge, and this cannot be measured in terms of economic effectiveness. Unfortunately, the salaries of more than one third of research-related staff are not fully funded by the government. To show its determination to build Hong Kong into an education hub, the government must invest a lot more. Human resources are crucial if we want to maintain our edge over our competitors.