China – West Dual Carriageway

hong_kong_pol98 China

by Hannah Phung

As our International Leadership Development Programme (ILDP) for Hong Kong and mainland China comes under the direction of our new Hong Kong Associate, Katherine Forestier and Professor Jim Yip, I’ve had my eyes opened to the complicated higher education relationship between the two powerhouses of Asia and their ambitions.

Of course the relationship has always been complicated, just read Chris Patten’s East and West – subtitled China, Power, and the Future of Asia. Traditionally Hong Kong was known as ‘the Gateway to China’. I would now like to offer a different metaphor and call it ‘The China – West Dual Carriageway’. When I was researching the higher education relationship between the two there was much going on but the main points are:

  • Hong Kong was ‘returned’ to China in 1997 but it was not included in China’s Five-year plans until the 12th version running 2011 – 2015. This now gives Hong Kong a strategic role to play in the mainland’s development
  •  In 2011 the National People’s congress officially approved an agreement between China’s southern Guangzhou province and Hong Kong to co-operate across the border as a ‘world class’ economic region

These developments allow Hong Kong greater opportunities to grow into the mainland and greater access to funding and resources, especially for scientific research, an area in which China is looking towards Hong Kong to support their development.

But opportunities come with their challenges. Hong Kong has always seen itself as independent and its universities are autonomous. How does it balance that with the mainland and its one party control? I know there are UK universities who have links with Chinese universities and the debate is not new, but it is on-going and Hong Kong universities are better placed than most to explain the reality.

Partnerships and links with China is one of the interests for learning more about the region. Another is the students. With predictions that fewer young Britons will want to go to university – for example, at a recent conference UCAS suggested that by 2020 there would be 50,000 fewer UK home university students. This means that UK universities and higher education colleges will continue to recruit from overseas and with China as a prime target.

Chinese parents work tooth and nail to send their one child to a university where they are taught and encouraged to question, reason, justify and think for themselves.The recent issues with UKBA give other nationals the impression the UK no longer welcomes overseas students (indeed, on a recent programme for Saudi Arabia I organised a student said to me “they [British people] are not interested in us, only in our money.”) This is perfect for Hong Kong’s universities as they move up the rankings: they provide a perfect compromise – Western ethics in their style of teaching and at mainland China’s door step. This is not just my speculation, but a prediction in our recently commissioned research report ‘Horizon Scanning: what will higher education look like in 2020?

Hong Kong and China are the vanguard of higher education development in South East Asia, indeed we are doing more leadership work with that part of the world. In the long term (in our ever changing world it may not be that long), I don’t think it will be about students, I don’t think it will be about partnership or deep level partnership, I think it will be role reversal. The meetings and connections that we make possible through ILDP will give you an insight into the thinking and doing that it is going to make it happen.

Hannah Phung is the Leadership Foundation’s international projects manager.

Places are still available on the autumn 2014 run of ILDP more information here.