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GBA is key to HK's being global education hub

By Liu Ningrong | HK EDITION | Updated: 2022-01-14 14:32
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Liu Ningrong says Guangdong's efforts to expand its learning and business opportunities offer an opportunity to work with SAR

When I came to the city and joined the University of Hong Kong at the turn of the 21st century, mass higher education was still not the norm. While the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region government made tremendous efforts to increase the opportunity of higher education for school-leavers, it has been trying to transform the city into the region's education hub, but the inspiration as of today has not been fulfilled.

Some of the key reasons include but are not limited to the following (three) factors:

The lack of a clear education policy. The Hong Kong government stated its goal to become an education hub and created a policy framework to support initiatives to achieve this goal, but this has not materialized because of unclear policies, and failed to drive Hong Kong to become an education hub.

The land shortage and pressure have threatened the education-hub status of Hong Kong. Because of the land shortage in Hong Kong, most of the universities in the city have limited space for expansion. Compared with Singapore, which is also facing challenges to safeguard academic freedom when setting up campuses for world-renowned universities, Hong Kong is entrenched with many disadvantages.

Fewer job opportunities and career stagnation for university graduates. While Hong Kong has enjoyed economic growth over the last two decades, only limited opportunities lie in select sectors such as financial services and banking. The situation has worsened, with recorded drops in starting salaries in various industries.

The gloomier prospects of driving Hong Kong to be Asia's global education hub, however, could be overcome. The dream begins to loom large on the horizon thanks to closer integration within the Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao Greater Bay Area, which will provide much broader advantages that Hong Kong alone cannot offer.

First, the Guangdong provincial government and local governments in the GBA have been heavily involved in establishing the region as a destination for higher education.

Unlike Silicon Valley and the New York City metropolitan area, the GBA cities in Guangdong, including Shenzhen, lack top-notch universities. Thus, the Guangdong provincial government and local governments endeavor to attract more world-class universities. They have been very supportive of setting up campuses for Hong Kong institutions, as they provide land and a supporting policy to enable the institutions to settle in smoothly. The government across the border clearly sees the huge benefits of such an investment in higher education.

Second, the GBA is positioned to become the high-tech powerhouse in China's efforts to continuously stimulate economic growth and better participate in the global economy. Thus, it will provide opportunities to attract new industries and entice both local and international companies to set up operations.

As the GBA's economies continue to drive China's transformation to innovation, compared to Hong Kong alone, the GBA has edges to attract more Chinese mainland residents to study at universities in the GBA and provide them with more job opportunities. There is no doubt that economies in the GBA will dominate the world, and future growth will be sustained as one of the most critical areas in China to integrate with the world in the post-pandemic era.

Third, the GBA can host both domestic and foreign higher education providers to strengthen its academic exchange and collaboration.

In addition to the Shenzhen University and the Southern University of Science and Technology, a new university — the GBA University —will be built in Dongguan. Besides the universities from Hong Kong, the GBA can also engage with many overseas universities, which could also enhance the exchange of cutting-edge knowledge in the GBA. Hong Kong should and can play a much more important role in promoting such academic collaboration and research with overseas universities in the GBA.

However, Hong Kong, as the major player driving the GBA to be Asia's higher education powerhouse and attract more overseas students, needs greater recognition. The prestigious ranking of the universities in Hong Kong among the top academic institutions in the world has empowered Hong Kong to be better-positioned as the educational hub for Asia. Educational cooperation must be intensified in Asia. This includes convertible educational credentials, which should start from cities crossing the border to the north. And Hong Kong can contribute to this development with its existing best practices. Following the Belt and Road Initiative, the GBA universities could also make efforts to recruit students from Southeast Asia and other BRI nations, which will make Hong Kong Asia's truly global education hub.

The author is deputy director of the University of Hong Kong's School of Professional and Continuing Education.

The views do not necessarily reflect those of China Daily.

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