International higher education in a marketised East Asian context: Case study of the University of Hong Kong

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This paper examines the unique facets and changing dimensions of the college international education at the University of Hong Kong. As one of the first-rate universities in Asia, the University of Hong Kong established in 1956 its School of Professional and Continuing Education (HKU SPACE; formerly the Department of Extra-Mural Studies), which is internationally speaking the fifth largest in size of its kind. The Community College affiliated with the University of Hong Kong is operated by HKU SPACE and the College is the first institution which offers associate degree programs since 2000. The unique features of the College, including its operational mode, curriculum design and the international aspects of the pedagogy will be uncovered and discussed in this paper. Notwithstanding the prevalence of “educational desire” in East Asia’s Confucian societies, the access to higher education is unusually limited in China’s Hong Kong (Tang, 2015). Undergraduate admission had long been competitive, with roughly 18% of the high school graduates being admitted to the local universities (which are predominantly public-funded institutions). Shadowing the American community college model, the Hong Kong government initiated the associate degree programs as a policy response in 2000. Liberal arts education is integrated as a core foundation of most of the associate degree majors. Upon completion of their study, graduates of Hong Kong sub-degree programs (be they from associate degree or higher diploma) can consider the further study pathway through the overwhelmingly competitive admission to local universities, or through studying with overseas universities. Given the international agreement with a number of world class universities, graduates of the HKU SPACE Community College are eligible to apply for the second or third year bachelor study of the designated overseas universities as they recognize the sub-degree qualifications of HKU SPACE Community College (Chiu & Cunich, 2008, pp.269-270). A significant number of the College graduates select to complete their international undergraduate study in Hong Kong as the offshore campus, saving the travel and overseas accommodation expenses. To provide the College graduates further study opportunities with inexpensive tuition fees, HKU SPACE set up the Centre for Degree Programmes (CDP) in 2003. Now CDP collaborates with 11 established overseas universities from Britain and Australia, offering more than 30 degree programs specifically tailored for the College graduates for more than a decade. The program options range from Asian Studies, Communication Studies and Social Sciences, to Business, Economics and Tourism Management; from Engineering Management to Arts and Design. In this way, international education is institutionalized as a comprehensive part of the “college whole”. International education of this kind can enhance the connection of the students and academic staff with overseas people, cultures, and contexts which are beyond local borders. However, in critical perspective, this dimension of international college education was not initiated or maintained by the Hong Kong government. Although the institutions which operate these education services are not officially profit-making companies, performance of their staff is measured by the effectiveness and sustainability of the business models designed for different education programs. Serving the changing knowledge markets, education enterprise is also a business enterprise which needs to be sensitive to market demands, accumulates surplus to sustain the educational programs and keeps the operation model viable - despite market risks and threats. As it is to business entreprise, marketing is central to the survival of non-public enterprises (for example Kotler, 1979), including self-financed education institutions. Ng (2012) claims that, “globalization entails the formation of worldwide markets operating in a common financial system with cross-border mobility of production.” (p.445). This applies to the academic globalization which supports worldwide markets by mobility of knowledge production and consumption. Among many an impetus, universities easily predispose to the drive of income generation through education exportation (Ng 2012, p.452), and therefore the ideal of “life-long learning” may be distorted by “lifelong earning” (Kennedy, 2004). At the entrepreneurial turn of higher education systems across the world (for example Marginson, 2004), the aims of international education may be limited by the globalizing academic capitalism (Tang, 2014). What underpin this direction and scenario of Hong Kong higher education development are the forces of internationalization under marketization as well as global academic entrepreneurship (Cheng et al., 2011). The challenges ahead for Hong Kong are the room for developing the indigenous international college education, instead of mimicking the global practices of the Anglo-saxon models. On this topic of community college and internationalization, this paper ends by recommending future researches can be conducted to examine the processes of intercultural collaborations between overseas professors and local tutors, who can serve as a “cultural broker” during the learning and teaching experiences. Such empirical scholarship can help identifying the determinants of an effective and successful international college education in Hong Kong, one of the world’s emerging education hub. Knowledge derived from the empirical scholarship will also shed light on the ways in which international dimension of student learning experience can be impartially, meaningfully and democratically emphasized in the East Asian context.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2015
EventAustralian Association for Research in Education Conference (AARE) 2015 - Fremantle, Australia
Duration: 29 Nov 201503 Dec 2015


ConferenceAustralian Association for Research in Education Conference (AARE) 2015
Abbreviated titleAARE 2015


Tang, H.-H. H. (2015, December). International higher education in a marketised East Asian context: Case study of the University of Hong Kong. Paper presented at the 2015 Australian Association for Research in Education Conference (AARE 2015), University of Notre Dame, Fremantle, Western Australia.


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