Leadership Foundation Research Impact – Working for Wales

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Professor Fiona Ross reflects on the impact that our stimulus paper on research funding in Wales has had on prompting the Welsh government to make positive steps towards supporting and encouraging research in the nation.

Last year Peter Halligan and Louise Bright (2015) published a paper on the Case for Growing STEMM Research Capacity in Wales. Theirs is a story of research funding for Science Technology Engineering Mathematics and Medicine (STEMM) in Wales. It provides a powerful review and explanation for what appeared to be Wales’s poor comparative research performance and productivity compared to Scotland. We published it in our stimulus paper series and this blog reflects on its impact.

The Leadership Foundation’s stimulus paper series is designed to support thought leadership and to provide the sector with an opportunity to challenge established perceptions and discuss them from a new position. Independent from disciplinary lobbying, government policy making and mission group, over the years the Leadership Foundation has offered an alternative space for incubating ideas on leadership, challenging the status quo in leadership, publish and disseminate for greater impact through its network of member institutions. We thought this was the ideal vehicle for this research.

Halligan and Bright’s paper is a detailed and longitudinal policy analysis of comparative data on research funding in Wales. It is not for the faint hearted and does not leave a stone unturned! It lays out the drivers behind the Welsh Office, and subsequent Welsh Government’s focus on an input target of total research council income. It argues that policy reliance on securing Wales’s UK share of Research Council funding had contributed to a misleading and reputational damaging perception of the Welsh university research base. To derive a more complete picture of the STEMM shortfall in Wales, Halligan and Bright calculated the total number of STEMM academic researchers in the four UK nations. Using Wales’s population share of total UK academics engaged in research they found that the academic research workforce was some 0.5% below Wales’s population standard share. Despite this discrepancy, the evidence shows that relatively low levels of Research Council income have nevertheless been effectively translated into high impact research.

Halligan and Bright’s paper concludes that the critical problem lay not in the quality of the science being done in Wales, but rather with the inadequate size of the science base and the number of researchers in STEMM. So what has been the impact from the paper and what happened? The Welsh Government listened, the Chief Scientific Advisor (CSA) acted swiftly though her Ser Cymru programme to deliver an ambitious strategy to increase research capacity in science to enhance economic growth.  To achieve this, the CSA brought together a number of initiatives involving COFUND funding from the EU Horizon 2020 and the European Regional Development Fund in association with Welsh Universities. This amounted to over £50M to support a capacity building programme to fund over 100 new fellowships in science. This is providing support for large scale doctoral training schemes, postdoctoral rising stars and promising research leaders and support for scientists (particularly women) returning to their fields after a long absence.

I am often asked about Leadership Foundation research outputs and what difference they make? The honest answer is it varies. Sometimes we hit on a winner, like Halligan and Bright. But impact does not happen by accident. It is a complex process. Here it took compelling evidence supporting the case for change, authors who were both authoritative and influential, a receptive policy context and respectful and longstanding relationships between government and academic institutions. Our analysis of LF impact shows the secret is about the quality of commissioning, and being able to anticipate the “burning platform” issues, working hard with authors to ensure quality and using the LF network to provide a conduit for dissemination and exchange of ideas. It has worked for Wales.

Professor Fiona Ross is Director of Research at the Leadership Foundation. Fiona leads research and thought leadership with a particular focus on generating learning for organisations on ‘what works’. Fiona has a background in community health and social policy and has worked as practitioner, teacher, research leader and senior manager over a 35 year career in higher education. She has had academic leadership roles at King’s College London, Kingston University and St George’s, University of London where most recently she was an executive dean. She has published widely on policy and care of older people, public engagement, collaborative practice and leadership of change. In addition to her role with the Leadership Foundation she has a part time professorial appointment at Kingston University and St George’s and does research and writes on collaborative governance and evaluating system wide interventions including Kingston University’s approach to narrowing the attainment gap for students from BME backgrounds. Fiona has recently been appointed Chair of the Board of Trustees of Princess Alice Hospice, which delivers end of life care in Surrey and South West London. She was awarded a CBE in the 2015 New Year’s Honours list for services to health care and higher education.


References

Welsh Government Delivering Science for Wales 2014-15.  Annual Report on the Strategy for Science in Wales p.2, p.6, p.7, p.16

Welsh Government Delivering Science for Wales 2015-16.  Annual Report on the Strategy for Science in Wales p.3, p.12

About the research authors

Professor Peter Halligan is the Chief Executive of the Learned Society of Wales

Dr Louise Bright is Deputy Director of Research and Business Engagement at the University of South Wales and the former Leadership Foundation Associate Director for Wales.

About our research
Our goal is to commission, develop and disseminate path finding research and resources which have originality, utility and impact to the sector. To view our latest research, click here

About Leadership Foundation Membership
We are a membership organisation of and for a sector that has some of the brightest minds in the UK. Our members are key to our strategy and form a community of higher education institutions with a clear commitment to and experience of developing leadership, governance and management capabilities at all levels. Academic and professional services staff from member institutions contribute to our programmes, projects and research and advice on benefits and services. To find out more about membership with us, click here

The Brexit blogs: working through change

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Cindy Vallance explores how the Kubler-Ross curve can be used in the work place.

My last blog encouraged leaders to take an active role in supporting staff to share their feelings in relation to Brexit, particularly given the complex and emotionally charged nature of this particular change. The UK, and the higher education sector as a whole, continue to receive a daily stream of Brexit-related announcements and uncertainty has not decreased, nor is it likely to in the near future.

University leaders are well-used to change. However, the scale of Brexit has had an unprecedented impact that continues to reverberate. Once you and your staff have named and shared your initial feelings, which may be grief or shock, and opened up the door for further discussion – then what? How do leaders use the change model and deal with feelings once they are unwrapped?[1]

Firstly, working through change is not linear and people may move backwards as well as forward through the phases.

During this phase of shock or denial, people need to take time to adjust to a new reality. They will want further information to understand what is happening and will need to know how to get help. Regular communication is the critical element here – web-based written communications, links and FAQs (ideally that have been tailored for the context of each institution) [2] can be helpful but it is also important to retain the human element. Some questions can be answered in writing, but there will also be those individuals who want to have direct face-to-face conversations, particularly if they feel they are being very personally affected. Even if universities do not have the answers yet, people will want to know that someone is listening.

When working through any kind of change, feelings of anger, concern and depression often follow shock and denial. This phase is often experienced as resistance and this is often the most challenging element of change since, if it is not managed well, the organisation can quickly lose the goodwill of its people and may begin to descend into a sense of chaos. There is little value in denying people’s feelings. It can be difficult to predict where the pressure points will be and the unexpected will undoubtedly occur. However, this is where leaders can use the diversity of their experience to determine what questions people may have. Understanding the thematic sector and organisational issues as well as the specificity of individual concerns will enable leaders to begin to plan and prepare clear responses.

Eventually, some certainty on the full extent of Brexit changes will begin to emerge and it will be possible for people to explore and reach a level of acceptance of the new reality. It is at this point that people will start to consider ways to make this new reality a success. This is a phase of testing possibilities, experimenting with and discovering new options with regard to what the change will mean. Learning can take place at this stage but working through the options presented by the changes requires time and support by organisational leaders. Building in time for adjustment should be incorporated into any plans.

The final stage of integration and commitment occurs when people begin to embrace new ways and find positive opportunities that will enable universities and the sector as a whole to continue to succeed – a sector to be proud of – one that changes individual lives and makes a global difference to society. It may be difficult for some to see this as a possible future but it is this stage that is most worth working towards.

Cindy, is the Leadership Foundation’s Assistant Director, Membership. She liaises with higher education institutions in London and across the South and East of England developing relationships with our members, coordinating events and leadership development initiatives that support and complement individual institutions’ strategies and the higher education agenda.

[1] Healing the wounds, Martin Milton, Regent’s University London, THE Letter, 7 July 2016.
[2] Brexit FAQs for universities and students, UUK, and Brexit: What will it mean for universities, students and academics? Dame Julia Goodfellow, UUK President, Telegraph, 1 July 2016.

 

The Brexit blogs: owning the grieving process

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Cindy Vallance on the mood and leadership responsibilities after the referendum

Early on the morning that we learned the UK had voted to leave the European Union, I found myself reeling with the news. The first person I spoke to that day was the man who handed me a free newspaper to read on the train. He asked me, “What was the result?” When I told him, struggling to hold back my tears, his response was, “this changes everything.”

On my train journey, I was surrounded by a group of young teens on their way to school. Brexit was their only topic of conversation. Around me, commuters were glued to their mobile devices, plugged into news channels and early morning broadcasts, looking for answers in a world that had seemingly turned upside down.

I was on my way to a leadership programme session with a group of senior staff at one of the Leadership Foundation’s member universities. Travelling to the event, I asked myself, how can I possibly focus on the planned agenda and what will the group want? Will they even come to the session or will I find myself alone in the room?

I was unsure whether to be happy or disappointed when, one by one, the group members entered and sat down. There was a part of me that simply wanted to be left alone with my own thoughts, to grieve. Yes – to grieve. A strong word, a word we do not use lightly. However, when I asked the group how they wanted to spend our time together, one of the first comments a participant shared was “I feel as though I am grieving over something I have lost.”

Somehow, this acknowledgement helped set the stage in a positive way for the discussion that followed. Naming that feeling, naming grief and putting it boldly on the table, meant that we could all be honest and share our responses to the news in a very real way, opening the door for us to also work through other emotions.

Many will be familiar with this sequence of words: grief, anger, depression, bargaining and acceptance. It is from the grief cycle model developed in the 1960s by psychologist Elisabeth Kubler-Ross[1] to describe the process that terminally ill patients progress through when informed of their illness. Since that time many adaptations have been made to the original model and applied to the process that people go through when experiencing organisational change. Here’s just one example of a commonly used ‘Change Curve’[2]:

Change Curve

A positive outcome from that session on the day of the Brexit news was the common conviction expressed by those in the room that one of their leadership responsibilities is quite simply to be there for their staff and students as they work through their own emotions. Naming our feelings and allowing others to do so is a step we must take to work through what is, and will continue to be, a deeply emotional issue.

Cindy, is the Leadership Foundation’s Assistant Director, Membership. She liaises with higher education institutions in London and across the South and East of England developing relationships with our members, coordinating events and leadership development initiatives that support and complement individual institutions’ strategies and the higher education agenda.

[1] Kubler-Ross, E. (1969). On Death and Dying. Macmillan

[2] The Change Curve,  is in our  Knowledge Bank resource,  a Leadership Foundation membership benefit.

Other sources of information

Kubler-Ross’s original book was On Death and Dying – here is the link to the more accessible version of the work: On Grief and Grieving.

A view from higher education using the same model: Seven stages of grief on the way to acceptance

 

 

Poland’s rapid response to change in higher education makes it a hidden gem

Author: Dr. Andrew Tuson MAUA,
Study Tour Coordinator, Consultant and Interim Manager,
Association of University Administrators

The Association of University Administrators conducts Study Tours annually to investigate an overseas higher education system. A report is written of the team’s findings. We are grateful to the Leadership Foundation for their support of the forthcoming report.

This year, the Study Tour was in Poland and like previous tours it had the following objectives:

  • To undertake a fact finding mission and produce a report on the Polish higher education system which incorporates analysis of similarities and differences and considers ways of sharing best practise;
  • To enable participants to gain an international perspective on aspects of higher education decision making, policy and practise;
  • To allow tour participants the opportunity to challenge their existing notions about higher education and undertake research in a non-UK environment.

Poland is a hidden gem in Europe, with more history, science and culture to offer than is commonly realised. For example, Polish mathematicians originally broke the Enigma cipher, work that shortened the war and saved countless lives. (Bletchley Park extended their work to later versions of the cipher and made it work on an industrial scale).

Initial desk research revealed a number of interesting and distinctive features of Polish higher education. For example. Polish higher education has a large recent private higher education sector that has played an important role in widening participation. Poland’s system has also undergone vast change in recent years. The system has played a key role in supporting Poland’s transition towards democracy, entry to the European Union and alignment with the Bologna Process. As such the focus was on three overarching themes:

  • Quality assurance;
  • Student demand, including internationalisation and the rise of the Private Sector;
  • Governance, including the student voice.

Three cities were the focus during our visit on the 10-17 May 2015: Warsaw, Poznan and Krakow. We visited between a number of public (Warsaw University of Technology, Adam Mickelwicz University and the Jageillonian University) as well as private providers (TEB/WSB, Vistula, Collegium Da Vinci and Kozminski). We were also received by the Polish higher education ministry and the PKA (the Polish Accreditation Committee).

The report will likely be published by November, but for now here are some initial impressions.

  • There is a clear and pressing issue of demographics in the sector. Since 2006 the student population has declined from about 2 million to just under 1.5 million. The situation will bottom out in 2025.
  • The Polish QA body, the PKA, runs about 1000 reviews a year. Unlike the UK, external examiners are not used by HEIs; rather external academics look at samples of work as part of the PKA review process.
  • Internationalisation is a recent consideration (there are only about 45,000 non-Polish students in the system), and the drivers appear to be not as commercial as would be the case in the publically funded UK HEIs. There are a lot of students from the Former Soviet Union in Polish universities (Ukraine and Belarus account for half of their non-Polish students).
  • The democratisation of public university governance with key officers (e.g. Rector) being elected; in the communist era the post-holders were appointed. Students are required to be represented in key governance committees including some that make financial decisions, by law. This applies in both private and public universities.

From a leadership perspective, it is remarkable how Polish higher education has responded to so much change. It had to expand rapidly, introduce and regulate a large private sector and upgrade its infrastructure. How Poland builds its capacity to respond to future challenges will be of interest going forward.

For more information on the team and where we visited. Please read our tour blog which can be found at auapoland2015.blogspot.co.uk.

Our next Study Tour will take place in the Netherlands on Tuesday 10 – Friday 13 November 2015. To find our more please visit AUA’s website www.aua.ac.uk.

Butterflies and education reform

by Katherine Forestier

Katherine Forestier is an international associate of the Leadership Foundation  and co-directed the International Leadership Development Programme (ILDP) visit to Hong Kong and Guangzhou in November, 2013

“Adding wings to caterpillars does not create butterflies. It creates awkward and dysfunctional caterpillars. Butterflies are created through transformation.”

Stephanie Pace Marshall’s quote not only captures the drive for transformation behind University of Hong Kong’s (HKU) new four-year curriculum, but the ambition of Hong Kong’s wider education reforms that it is responding to.

The butterfly analogy made a huge impression on the UK participants in the recent International Leadership Development Programme held in Hong Kong and Guangzhou, co-directed by Professor Jim Yip, director of special projects at the University of Salford.

During the programme the group witnessed the outcomes of more than a decade of carefully planned and interlocking reforms that are now affecting every level of education in the former British colony – from what children should learn from pre-school onwards, to the phasing in of new four-year undergraduate degree programmes that from 2012 is replacing the old, three-year English model.

And in Guangzhou they saw a no less ambitious a transformation, in the form of new campuses emerging from bare ground for newer universities such as Guangzhou Polytechnic Normal University (GPNU) and Guangzhou Maritime Institute (GMI). These are playing a key role in extending access needed for China to achieve its target of expanding its higher education enrolment rate from 24.2 per cent in 2009, to 40 per cent by 2020.

The scale of the Hong Kong reforms, how they are being led at policy and institutional levels, and some inevitable tensions, became evident during meetings with policy makers and academics at the cutting edge of change.

What was notable to the ILDP participants was that in each of the visits, the focus of discussion returned to education – what it should be, and how this could be delivered, assured, and measured. Universities were seen to have run with the policy decision to increase undergraduate courses from three to four years and were now enjoying the luxury of time to give students a more rounded learning experience akin to American liberal arts traditions.

Despite the challenge of having a double cohort of students proceed through the system between 2012 and 2015, they are also making impressive use of the physical spaces built to accommodate the extra year of students. This was seen most dramatically in Hong Kong University of Science and Technology’s state of the art library, with its varied learning spaces and blending of arts, sciences and nature in its design, digital and physical collections, exhibits, and inspirational sea-cum-mountain views.

Gwyn Edwards, director of HKU’s new Common Core Curriculum, shared some insight into the thinking behind the extra year. It could quite easily have been limited to the remedial function of bringing students up to speed in academic subjects after they had left school one year younger in the new academic structure, at age 17 to 18 rather than 18 to 19 – adding wings to that caterpillar.

Instead, it had been grasped as an opportunity to transform the curriculum, in the spirit of the wider education reforms that aim to enhance the critical and creative thinking, and global outlook of young people.

Under the new structure, the fact that students are starting university one year earlier has not been a major issue, because of the time lost under the previous model in preparing for multiple public examinations instead of the single Hong Kong Diploma of Secondary Education now phased in. In addition, students under the new system are showing early signs of being better motivated and prepared for university in the learning skills and attitudes the new school curriculum helps them develop.

Curriculum
At HKU, aims of the reforms were well understood by its pro vice-chancellor, Professor Amy Tsui, whose academic background is in curriculum studies, and was charged with leading the change.

ILDP HK visit

ILDP4 participants and programme director Jim
Yip (left) at Victoria  Harbour, Hong Kong 

The compulsory Common Core Curriculum, along with English and Chinese language learning, account for about 12 per cent of HKU’s new curriculum, while the extra year also enables the majority of students to participate in exchanges and other study abroad experiences, and credit-bearing experiential learning projects.

A multidiscipline approach is at the heart of the new curriculum, at HKU and other universities. For HKU’s Common Core, students can choose from more than 160 courses across four interlinked Areas of Inquiry – Scientific and Technological Literacy, Humanities, Global Issues, and China: Culture, State and Society – and are expected to take at least one from each.

Academics in Hong Kong face similar pressures to their UK counterparts in balancing teaching and research. So when the call for proposals for Common Core courses was launched, many predicted only a handful would be submitted. Instead, Edwards received 240 for the first 60. Academics, he said, had welcomed the opportunity to teach something that they were genuinely interested in, beyond their discipline, “exploring issues of profound significance to humankind”.

In Hong Kong, discussions are refreshingly frank. No one hides the challenges faced, and the fact that work is still in progress in achieving educational aims of the reforms. Many parents remain unconvinced and continue to send their children overseas, for school and undergraduate education, confirmed in data on the increasing number of Hong Kong students studying in the UK.

Hong Kong China
The visit took place at a time of noticeable tension over Hong Kong’s political future and accelerating integration with China – what could be summed up as its biggest identity crisis since the change of sovereignty in 1997. This is reflected in public angst about the crowds of shoppers from mainland China buying up everything from luxury apartments to the city’s supplies of baby milk formula.

Universities, meanwhile, are questioning just how many mainland students they should recruit and how to ensure they can happily integrate with their local and international peers. The current limit for non-local students is 20 per cent for publicly-funded undergraduate places, but at postgraduate level there are no quotas and the ratio is much higher than that. The challenges in building genuine intercultural understanding and friendships as an outcome of internationalisation were as evident in Hong Kong universities as the UK.

While Hong Kong’s higher education is now irrevocably linked to China through the mainland presence in Hong Kong and expansion of Hong Kong universities through research centres and new branch campuses across the border, key differences remain. Delegates saw policies being implemented that arose, in general, from extensive consultation and collaboration, between policy-makers, educators and the wider community, something one UK participant noted was easier in a small system.

In contrast, in China the GNPU and GMI plans for growth and reform closely mirrored the top-down National Plan for Medium and Long-term Education Reform and Development (2010-2020), in both curriculum priorities – moral education comes first – and targets for growth.

Participants talked of being inspired by what they had seen, in particular the focus on student learning and the broader curriculum in Hong Kong, and the burgeoning growth of both economy and higher education in mainland China. This was contrasted by what was described as a narrower, linear, more functional approach in England, and funding concerns.

One participant noted that Hong Kong did not need to worry about funding issues, given its budget surplus. Yet the reforms have had a long gestation, with the first soul-searching born out of the Asian financial crisis in 1997. Planning for that costly fourth year was not interrupted by further economic crises when the SARS infection ground Hong Kong to a halt in 2003, nor during the recession sparked by the global financial crisis of 2008.

Where there is a will for a new purpose in education, there may be a way. Or as Edwards cited, the butterfly can only fly if it dares to leave the safety of its cocoon.

For more on LF’s international work visit: www.lfhe.ac.uk/international

Georgia on my mind: A distinctive experience

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by Dr Paul Gentle

I was fortunate to be able to visit several higher education institutions in and around Atlanta, Georgia last week, in the generous company of a cohort of Top Management Programme 31 delegates. The programme was led by Dr Tom Kennie & Professor Robin Middlehurst. I was most struck by Georgia Gwinnett, a public undergraduate, teaching-only college whose mission is to be a 21st century access institution. It was newly-built and launched in 2006 with 118 inaugural students, now providing a liberal arts education to almost 10,000. The campus provides beautifully-designed buildings and sports and leisure facilities which are well-used by students. Given Georgia Gwinnett College’s mission to engage large numbers of students whose parents did not experience higher education themselves, tuition fees are far from prohibitive, and are limited to a full-time year equivalent of under $3,500 – just over £2,000.

Visiting on a Friday (often a quiet day on US campuses) gives a tangible sense of the engagement and inspiration demonstrated by Georgia Gwinnett’s students. It is immediately obvious that the college and its organisational culture is built on clear and focused educational principles:

  • Harnessing innovation in learning technology to support student success
  • Providing an integrated educational experience in which service learning and other extra-curricular activities play a key role and are actively managed by the College
  • Engagement by all faculty in teaching and mentoring as a hallmark of the institution

There is a deliberately-stated intention to act as a model for innovation in education and administration. All on-campus services and facilities that are not directly linked to delivering the curriculum are outsourced, and the college was designed in this way from the outset.

The founding president, Dan Kaufman, and current president Stas Preczewski, are both former senior officers from West Point Military Academy, and they have applied their experience and vision to creating and sustaining an institution which breeds success – the opening sentences of the prospectus declare ‘Failure is not an option.’

As one dean at Georgia Gwinnett put it, teaching staff are selected on the basis of ‘passion for teaching, and liking students’. Faculty are actively involved in student support, and are expected to be available for students with tutorial needs outside class hours. Every course handbook has the mobile number of the teacher printed clearly on the front cover, and this college-provided phone is meant to elicit a fast response. In addition to providing academic support for students in class and across the campus, there is also a 24-hour online tutoring service for every major undergraduate programme offered on campus.

Despite a short history, Georgia Gwinnett has build a strong reputation quickly, and is already ranked in the top 10% of colleges nationwide for academic challenge, student/faculty interaction outside of the classroom, and for active and collaborative learning. It has also achieved remarkable results for student retention, performing at least ten percentage points higher than the average for state colleges in the United States for first year retention. For a non-selective institution, this pays tribute to the supportive and challenging learning environment offered to students. It also reflects the practice of having maximum class group sizes of 25, and a compulsory attendance requirement.

The power behind the rapid growth of Georgia Gwinnett’s numbers lies in word of mouth: where live-transforming examples of student success affect families, this also impacts on communities, and ultimately, Gwinnett County and beyond. The most frequently reported aspect of student feedback is consistently about one aspect: the quality of the teaching staff. The key message which is now well established in the community is ‘Faculty here will help you make it through’.

Leadership

There is a clear purpose for Georgia Gwinnett, that of inspiring students to contribute to society. This links to the value of service, and is intended to ensure that the college contributes to the long-term civic growth and sustainability of Gwinnett County and its hinterland. Importantly, the current ethnic mix in the County corresponds to the predicted balance for the United States as a whole by 2040 . This is roughly 35% African-American, 35% white and 25% Latino. Georgia Gwinnett sees itself as an overt prototype of higher education for the 21st century, and is attracting considerable interest from its peers. Not only was it the first new four-year college founded in Georgia in more than 100 years; it was also the first four-year public college created in the United States in the 21st century.

Leadership is a key factor in the organisation of the college. It was set up deliberately without academic departments or departmental chairs, in order to avoid silo mentalities. Deans therefore manage within a model of distributed leadership, in which clusters of colleagues work together across academic programmes and thematic areas of responsibility overseen by associate deans.

In the week when I visited Georgia Gwinnett with a group of leaders from across the UK, the college had just succeeded in securing accreditation for its degree programmes for a further ten-year period, with feedback from the accrediting body which was entirely positive. One aspect which was found to be an outstanding example of leadership practice concerned strategy: Georgia Gwinnett’s strategic plan is a dynamic reality, constantly being updated and enacted. The accrediting body had never before seen this happen before in a higher education institution!

My thanks to Tom Kennie and Robin Middlehurst for setting up such a comprehensive programme of visits, and for all their inspiring work on TMP over the last 14 years

Paul Gentle is the Leadership Foundation’s Director of Programmes and from autumn 2013 will lead Top Management Programme 32 onwards. To find out more about TMP visit: www.lfhe.ac.uk/TMP

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.