Home > UGC Publications > Speeches and Articles > 2004 > Chairman's Speech on Internationalization (5.11.2004)

Internationalization of the Student Body in Hong Kong's Higher Education Institutions Community Leaders' Dinner

Friday, 5 November 2004 at 7:30 pm
Penthouse, Hang Seng Bank HQ, 83 Des Voeux Road Central

Welcome Speech by Dr Alice Lam,
Chairman of University Grants Committee

Secretary for Education and Manpower, Council Chairmen and Heads of Institutions, distinguished guests and friends,

Thank you so much for joining my University Grants Committee Members and myself this evening. Just to demonstrate the esteem in which I hold this group, I am going to keep my remarks brief. My SG complains that I cannot give a speech without using buzzwords like internationalization, globalization, and international competitiveness. Tonight, I am going to prove that he is right.

Internationalism (here I make my mistake) is in fact what Hong Kong is all about. You can't succeed as the most externally oriented economy in the world without understanding what makes others tick. I therefore see it also as an important cornerstone of the future development of higher education in Hong Kong. There are two key aspects - attracting non-local students to study in Hong Kong, and enabling more local students to join student exchange programmes.

The cultural diversity of the student body is an important foundation for a truly excellent education because it stimulates "out of the box thinking". Having more non-local students in Hong Kong will assist tremendously in the cultivation of long-term interpersonal contacts and friendships with potential future business and opinion formers of other countries. Non-local students also help enhance Hong Kong's international image and stimulate healthy competition.

Another way to achieve this is to send our students on exchange programmes, to enroll in short term courses overseas. Living outside Hong Kong helps enhance their adaptability, communication skills, and independence. As soon as they get on the plane, they have to start making decisions of their own. I have talked to these students and they said that their experiences have fundamentally changed them - for the better. And, of course, those non-local students on exchange here interact constantly with our Hong Kong students.

But we are not doing as much as we should and need to. Currently our non-local students number only about 4% of the total student body and there is a huge slant towards Mainland China - accounting for over 88%. Indeed over 60% of the non-local students in Hong Kong are at research postgraduate level - not undergraduate level. On student exchanges, even with special Government support these last couple of years, only about 1,500 Hong Kong students could participate in exchanges last year.

Some of you may remember that, there was once a time when Hong Kong was a destination of choice for overseas students, notably from South-east Asia. But since they have been developing their own higher education systems, there have been fewer students coming from that region. There is, of course, another issue - visibility. We have probably not been aggressive enough in promoting our own. More outreaching and promotional activities will be vital.

To add further, having more scholarships for non-local students will be very useful for our institutions to attract them because the cost of living in Hong Kong is relatively high when compared with other countries. This is especially true when other, more popular destinations are offering scholarships for the best international students. We need to do the same for our institutions to stand on the same footing to compete for the cream of the crop.

We have a window of opportunity here and this is the right time for us to act. The big international brand names are all doing everything they can to enlarge their market share and manufacturing base in the Mainland now. And Hong Kong is an important doorstep into the industrial powerhouse and a valuable platform to access the consumer colossus. When we have provided more financial assistance to overseas students, increased our visibility, improved the institutional set ups to launch programmes in specified countries, and have more students on exchange programmes, we can become a true education hub.

We have yet fully to seize the opportunities offered by internationalization. True to our position as Asia's World City, we really do have the potential to attract non-local students. We have a well-established higher education system with internationally recognized curricula. We have fashionable programmes demanded by the changing world - like creative media, Chinese medicine, logistics, medicine, and business administration - and they use English as the medium of instruction. We have institutions that host some of Asia's best executive business management programmes and research projects. Each institution has its areas of strength and attractiveness. Due to our unique blend of Chinese and Western cultures, we have a social environment that can enrich the educational experiences of non-local students.

When we find barriers, we have to take them down. We are aware that the private sector has done a great deal for the higher education sector - for that I must thank you. What I am asking you to do is to refocus your contribution to help fund more scholarships for non-local students to study in Hong Kong and more student exchange places. These are worth every cent because we will be putting our money where our future is. I hope tonight our friends from the private sector will be able to learn more from the Chairmen and Heads of Institutions - and be inspired to help. I am just here as the facilitator.

For the Government - yes I am looking at you, Arthur - and the Consul-Generals, we need your help to promote and make known beyond the shores of Hong Kong and China, the Hong Kong higher education institutions as a system. I believe that the idea of studying in Hong Kong for an undergraduate degree has never crossed the minds of many overseas students, not because we are unworthy - but because they have never heard of us. It is time for us to blow our own trumpet - and we ask your help.

I know when our minds turn to help from the private sector, we also think of what the Government and the University Grants Committee will do. I am sure Arthur will tell you what he has in mind later this evening when he has kindly agreed to address us. The University Grants Committee will provide support from a system perspective. We are ready to provide a matching grant of up to $5 million to each institution, once they come up with a joint strategic plan with specific milestones. This will help them set up their own infrastructure to raise funds, establish their ability to attract students internationally, devise promotional programmes or even set up a joint office. Maybe Victor or Edward, who have kindly agreed to speak later, will say a little bit more about these ideas.

Tonight, I am optimistic about the future of our students. We can make critical investments in them, and in our higher education institutions. Our ultimate goal in securing your engagement is to help you re-focus Hong Kong's intellectual and knowledge-producing landscape, one that will contain internationally competitive institutions which will attract the interest of all deserving students regardless of their financial means. I call on all of you tonight to exercise your influence, to inspire and to encourage other people to join our efforts and give our students, our institutions and Hong Kong the best chance to succeed.

Thank you.

UGC Secretariat