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Speech at the Asia-Pacific Association for International Education (APAIE) Conference and Exhibition 2013 Hong Kong Session

13 March 2013 (Wednesday)


Asia-Pacific Association for International Education (APAIE) Conference and Exhibition 2013

Hong Kong Session


Speech by Mrs Cherry Tse, JP

Permanent Secretary for Education



Internationalisation and Quality Assurance



Distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen,



     Good afternoon!  Welcome to this Hong Kong Session of the APAIE Conference and Exhibition 2013.  I feel honoured to be asked to chair this session.



     The title of this session is “Understanding Higher Education in Hong Kong”.  Joining me are three distinguished academics who will share with us the latest developments of higher education in Hong Kong.  Their focus will be “internationalisation”, including the opportunities and challenges facing the higher education sector locally, regionally and globally in this aspect.  Before introducing and inviting them to speak, I shall dutifully do what I have been asked by the organiser, and that is, to  facilitate the audience’s understanding of the current state of play in Hong Kong by giving an overview of the landscape of post-secondary education in Hong Kong including the Government’s major initiatives to propel its development.  In particular, I shall underline how quality assurance underpins internationalisation.



Changes in the Hong Kong Education System



     Hong Kong’s education system has undergone unprecedented changes in the past decade.  The knowledge transmission approach to school education has been replaced by a student-oriented emphasis on learning to learn.  Underpinning this change is our belief that the globalised world is changing so fast that knowledge will become obsolete soon after it has been taught.  Opportunities abound, limited only by our imagination, as evidenced by the ever-growing product differentiation and inter-disciplinary discoveries.  Propelled by this, we have revamped our senior secondary curriculum which seeks to integrate experiential learning, vocational and academic pursuits.  Possibilities additional to traditional academic articulation are introduced.  Supporting the development of diverse pathways is a Qualifications Framework which, when mature, will be a platform to enable a seamless crossover among academic study, training and employment. 



     In the post-secondary sector, mirroring this emphasis on managing change and diversity are three structural changes.  First, undergraduate studies are extended from three to four years to facilitate a broadening of knowledge base.  Secondly, in face of the ever-changing manifestations of globalisation, we encourage the parallel development of the publicly-funded and self-financing post-secondary education sectors with a view to inducing enhanced diversity in education opportunities.   At present, of the 17 local degree-awarding institutions in Hong Kong, 9 are publicly-funded and 8 are self-financed.  Thirdly, we also expand the opportunities for post-secondary education to support the needs of a knowledge-based world.  We expect that in two years, over one-third of the relevant age cohort will have the opportunity to pursue degree-level education.  Taking sub-degree places into account, nearly 70% of our young people will have access to post-secondary education.



Why Internationalisation & How



     Knowledge and innovation know no boundary. Therefore, internationalisation, being a perennial strive for more connectivity, is a necessary response to globalisation.  All the more so for Hong Kong if we are to remain Asia’s world city.  I am glad to say that post-secondary institutions in Hong Kong share the Government’s vision for internationalisation.  To be quite honest, most of them bash us for not giving them as much support to move as fast as they would desire.  I welcome their request for more.  From a macro strategic perspective, having a locus of change that goes beyond the government offices, but underpinned by a shared vision and a drive to scale new heights, is what makes Hong Kong tick, notwithstanding the resultant healthy tension between the Government and the education stakeholders.  I shall now go briefly to where we are in various manifestations of internationalisation before listing the key supportive measures that we have put in place.



     First, students.  The number of non-local students at degree level or above in Hong Kong has reached 20 300, or 15.2% of the total, in the 2011/12 academic year, with an approximately equal share in the publicly-funded and self-financing sectors.  These students come from over 70 countries or regions in the world.  Moreover, about 4 200 of our students are involved in exchange activities and a similar number of overseas students come to Hong Kong on exchange every year.  We expect that the number will increase further as we step into a four-year undergraduate curriculum this year.



     Next comes our faculty, the pearls of our institutions.  They are recruited from around the world.  Quality, not places of origin, is the single most important selection criterion.  They bring with them a wealth of international experience and networks.  Through them, Hong Kong keeps pace with international standards and best practices in curriculum design, teaching and research. 



     Our institutions are involved in an increasing number of academic and research collaborations..  With a view to fostering international collaboration on research, the Research Grants Council now operates a number of joint research funding schemes with foreign ministries and organisations, including those in Mainland China, Europe and the US.  These schemes are popular among local and overseas scholars.



     Worth highlighting is our link with Mainland China, undeniably one of the key engines of world growth.  Some of our institutions have ventured outside Hong Kong, by establishing joint research centres in the Mainland.  Some have even partnered with Mainland universities and set up campuses in different parts of the Mainland.  Over the last decade or so, not a year has gone by without the Hong Kong-Mainland network of partnerships becoming denser and denser.



     In addition to research collaboration, our institutions have also been active in offering joint programmes with overseas institutions in various disciplines.  Topping the league of popularity is a number of MBA programmes that have attracted a good mix of local and non-local mid-career students.  The experience interflow and human links these MBA programmes have enabled have further entrenched Hong Kong’s place as a premiere hub.  Another manifestation of the world’s presence in Hong Kong is the vibrant market for non-local courses.  At present, there are over 1 100 non-local higher education and professional programmes with over 40 000 enrolment counts.  In adding diversity, choices and lifelong learning opportunities, these transnational education programmes are a welcome complement to our local programmes.



Government’s Facilitating Role



     In line with Hong Kong’s governing philosophy, we propel internationalisation through facilitation, not prescription.  Support measures are provided to induce and not to micro-manage.  The basket of measures that we have introduced since 2008 includes doubling the non-local student quotas of the publicly-funded programmes and providing scholarships to award outstanding non-local students.  We welcome talents with open arms.  To underline this, we have relaxed immigration and employment rules to allow non-local students to take on summer jobs and on-campus part-time jobs, as well as to stay in Hong Kong for 12 month to look for jobs after completion of their study.  The Research Grants Council has established the Hong Kong PhD Fellowship Scheme that aims at attracting the best and brightest research students in the world.  The results are very encouraging, with about 400 awardees since its establishment in 2009.



     As mentioned earlier, internationalisation, diversity and enhanced opportunities go hand in hand.  And this explains why promotion of the self-financing post-secondary education sector is an integral part of our internationalisation endeavour.  Our promotion goes beyond just number.  We want quality diversity, quality opportunities.  Only then would the development of the sector be sustainable.  Policy and funding are so designed as to induce quality assurance.  The basket of support measures that we have put in place include land grant at nominal premium, interest-free start-up loans, student finances, quality assurance subsidies and a HK$3.5 billion [US$450 million] Self-financing Post-secondary Education Fund to provide scholarships to outstanding students pursuing full-time locally-accredited self-financing sub-degree or bachelor degree programmes and to support quality enhancement efforts of institutions.  Completion of accreditation by the Hong Kong Council for Academic Accreditation and Vocational Qualifications (HKCAAVQ), a statutory organisation responsible for institutional accreditation and programme validation, is a prerequisite to benefitting from the basket of support measures.   



Internationalisation & Quality Assurance




     The recent developments of higher education in the world have largely been driven by two locomotives, internationalisation and quality assurance.  These two seemingly separate concepts are in fact mutually supporting.  Internationalisation opens up eyes, ears and the mind.  Experience and best practices sharing helps prompt reflection of how and where improvements may be made.  Enhanced quality, in turn, raises an institution’s appeal as a prospective partner in internationalisation.  It is no exaggeration to say that quality assurance and internationalisation form a virtuous cycle. 



     Therefore, the Hong Kong Government attaches great importance to upholding the quality of our post-secondary institutions and programmes, both publicly-funded and self-financing ones. Our degree-awarding institutions are required by law to put in place appropriate governance structures for ensuring accountability and quality.  As part of a well-established funding mechanism, publicly-funded institutions have to submit their academic and development proposals on a triennial basis. All post-secondary programmes offered by local institutions have to complete an accreditation process prior to commencement. 



     In respect of non-local courses, providers have to complete a registration process to demonstrate the comparability of the courses with those offered in their home countries.  Non-local courses providers are also welcome to seek local accreditation of the courses for quality assurance purpose.  Successful local accreditation would enable their students to enjoy grants and loans financed by public revenue.  So far, out of some 1 100 non-local courses in Hong Kong, over 70 have obtained local accreditation status.



     In a globalised world, success is no longer measured by national or regional benchmarks alone.  Students opt for institutions and programmes that are internationally recognised.  We strongly believe in the value of rigorous quality assurance to the international competitiveness and appeal of our institutions and programmes.  Given the size of Hong Kong, the fact that five of our institutions are ranked within the top 200 universities in the world in 2011/12 is quite an accomplishment.  However, there is absolutely no room for complacency.  It is vital that our institutions continue to see the delivery of quality programmes as their top priority.  Only then would we be able to continue to attract ambitious and talented students.



     Likewise, institutions’ opportunities for research collaboration also hinge on academic and research excellence, which are in turn underpinned by quality assurance.  An institution known for its rigorous defense of quality will add credibility to applications for funds and opportunities by its faculty.  On the contrary, absence of a quality assurance mechanism on which others can rely will detract from the merits of research proposals made by its faculty members.   Little surprise therefore that quality assurance has become an indispensable component in institutions’ bid for research funding worldwide. 



     Ladies and gentlemen, internationalisation is more than just attracting international students to fill up classes.  It also goes well beyond academic exchange.  The quality of talents that may be nurtured as well as the richness of the cultural interflow among bright minds from different places should not be overlooked.  The ultimate question we need to ask ourselves is “what is the added value we give to international students?”  To answer this question, we are glad to have three distinguished speakers for today’s session.  Each of them will focus on a unique topic related to the theme of “internationalisation”.  With the speakers’ and your contribution, I believe today’s dialogue will provide pointers for us to consider how we may further internationalize, with quality, our post-secondary sector.



Last revision date: 13 March 2013
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