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Symposium on Internationalization

Opening Remarks by Mr Michael V Stone
Secretary-General, University Grants Committee

Secretary Suen, Professor KUO, distinguished speakers and guests, ladies and gentlemen,

Good morning and a warm welcome to you, especially friends from overseas who have traveled a long way to share your thoughts at the Symposium. Today’s Symposium, organized by the Heads of University Committee with the support of the University Grants Committee (UGC), is an initiative to stimulate thought and facilitate exchange among institutions on promoting internationalization of the Hong Kong higher education sector. I am sure it will.

2. Jack Welch, the former Chairman and CEO of General Electric (GE) and an entrepreneur of insight, said some ten years ago that,

"Globalization……has changed [GE] into a company that searches the world, not just to sell or to source, but to find intellectual capital - the world's best talents and greatest ideas."

Likewise, globalization has also changed the world's higher education sector in that not only do we need to compete worldwide for academic staff, our students also need to be globally competitive. It is no exaggeration to say that higher education is a "tradable" service – indeed some might say it is now an "industry" – but I shall not stray into that area. But what is "internationalization" of the Hong Kong higher education sector? And what does it mean to key involved parties: the institutions and UGC, the government and the public?

3. Probably from the institutional and UGC perspective, the key aim is to enhance the academic learning/research environment in which both students and staff work and live. From the government perspective, the key aim is probably to enhance the economic future of Hong Kong. The hope is that bright students will come here to study at Ug then RPg level and stay to find jobs – or at least look to Hong Kong on their future dealings i.e. "talents". Does "soft power" – or social/cultural influence – enter the picture in Hong Kong? It certainly does for many countries' efforts in attracting overseas students to study – hence bodies like the British Council, Goethe-Institut, EducationUSA and Australian Education International. And soft power can be very powerful indeed over the long term. The public? Not sure what they feel about internationalization. Ambivalent? confused? and concerned that their precious "Ah Ming", "Ka Wai" will not get a place because of all those non-locals?

4. Anyway, my point is that internationalization means different things to different people and there can be a great variety of perspectives which are not mutually exclusive. I look forward to listening to your views.

5. In the Hong Kong context, so far more most has been done on internationalizing the people. We are all keen to diversify the student body of local institutions, and the Government has increased the quota of non-local students for UGC-funded programmes from 10% to 20% of the approved student number targets. We also encourage student exchange – and with the help of the four Matching Grant Schemes and earlier seed funding, this activity has grown in leaps and bounds. Apart from internationalizing the student body, our institutions also recruit teaching staff internationally. 3+3+4 will enhance this, with 1,000 more academics needed. No doubt the establishment of global networks, and exposure to different cultures through opportunities arising from an internationalized campus will bring lifelong benefits to our local students.

6. Yet, there is clearly more to be done to deepen internationalization. Take curriculum development as an example. If a "localized" curriculum is taught in an internationalized campus, this means only half the job has been done. Indeed, the infusion of an international dimension into programmes is crucial to provide local students with the multi-cultural and international perspectives required in order to succeed in the global competition. It will at the same time make the learning process more relevant and fruitful for non-local students, and thus enhance institutions' appeal for them. Perhaps this will be an issue discussed today.

7. Research is another important aspect of internationalization. We have set up an $18 billion Research Endowment Fund and investment income on up to $4 billion of the principal will be set aside to support theme-based research. I hope that the increased funding in general – and on themes – will promote more high impact and collaborative research, including collaboration with academics from China and internationally.

8. Turning to the issue of visibility. At the UGC we don't particularly like league tables – because they tend to glorify a rather narrow type of institution. But one cannot help but be pleased when in the one well publicised ranking survey for 2009, Hong Kong was one of the best performing economies in the Asia Pacific region, with five universities placed in the top 200. Despite the reservations about the validity of league tables, the encouraging performance of our institutions are not to be overlooked. A higher education system with more top-ranking universities will attract more top-notch students and scholars, with which institutions will become even stronger magnets for high calibre individuals. Like it or not, it is true that in the global race for the best brains, our institutions have to be more visible. It is equally important that institutions' efforts on internationalization, and the positive impact being brought about to Hong Kong's economy, are visible to the local community. In this context, it's a pity that the session on "Branding and Marketing of Higher Education" had to be cancelled due to the health problem of the speaker. But I am sure institutions will continue the dialogue on means further to enhance visibility by capitalizing on their strengths.

9. While internationalization does not have the same meaning to all, there are certainly common challenges facing us. I shall focus on three – the difficulty in recruiting non-local students other than those from the Mainland China, the shortage of hostel places, and the issue of funding.

10. At present, almost all of our non-local students are from Mainland China. While this is not ideal, it is certainly not a bad thing. Mainland students bring very different perspectives/culture – and boy are they bright and study hard! It would be nice to have a more heterogeneous population of non-local students for a more multi-cultural campus but it's not a matter for the UGC or others to try and make dictats on. Perhaps, it again boils down to the issue of visibility – and this will improve over time and with such things as the new RGC PhD Fellowship Scheme and EDB’s Scholarship Scheme.

11. As for the shortage of hostels, the problem will take some time to solve I regret to say, given the land constraints. But more hostels are in the pipeline. On this, we will continue to liaise with the Government for more hostel sites/places, and we also count on institutions for insights and cooperation in coming up with more innovative solutions to the problem. And dare I say it, institutions might do more to help themselves?

12. Which brings one conveniently to: who should pay? Well from what I have said, I think institutions should naturally be doing quite a lot themselves. Institutions need to devise strategies capable of identifying their niches, and compete internationally on that basis. The offering of quality programmes and learning experiences for students are essential. Having international staff is important. This does not need more funding. But who should pay for all those non-local students – up to 20% on top of the UGC number?

13. That really is a difficult question, and different jurisdictions have very different approaches. In Singapore, the government highly subsidises non-local students to attract them to come – to the extent of providing loans and grants to meet the subsidised fees. That is one model. In Europe, largely for historical reasons, non-local students are still – it’s changing – mostly charged the same as locals – that is to say almost nothing. But in the Anglo Saxon world, governments talk a lot, and provide plenty of political support, but non-local students pay full costs.

14. In Hong Kong we seem somewhere in between. What should Hong Kong do? What can we afford to do? What is politically realistic? Should we be holding our institutions' hands – or should they be strong enough to attract good students willing to pay full costs? Most unfortunately I have already overrun my time so the answer will have to wait – perhaps to this afternoon’s session.

15. Ladies and gentlemen, globalization and internationalization of the higher education sector are intertwined. The opportunities are there, so are the challenges. I am sure the experts with us today will have much to share on this important topic. I look forward to fruitful discussion in the coming sessions. Thank you.