Lingnan University in Hong Kong recently hosted a roundtable discussion on the theme of “Creating a New Destination Market” as part of the QS Higher Education Summit China 2022.
The mid-April online event saw speakers examine issues affecting student mobility, research exchanges, scholarship funding and partnerships between institutions at a time when diplomatic tensions and COVID-19 have brought many new challenges.
A key consideration was whether there is a “paradigm shift in the making”, as universities in Hong Kong and China take steps to circumvent current obstacles and position themselves as attractive destination markets for overseas undergraduates and research students.
Statistics show that almost half a million international students chose the China region as their study destination in 2019 and, despite subsequent disruptions, the number has remained relatively stable.
Underlying trends indicate admissions from some “source countries” are rising, while elsewhere they are in decline.
However, more courses are being tailor-made for overseas applicants, universities are looking to export certain education models, and for those in the region’s “knowledge economy”, success in the face of stiff competition from other international markets, has become a major objective.
Professor Leonard K Cheng, President of Lingnan University, noted that Hong Kong’s universities still face some operating constraints in admitting non-local students.
These relate predominantly to government funding for undergraduate programmes, with a cap of around 20 per cent on mainland China or overseas students, who pay higher tuition fees.
There are, though, self-financed and taught postgraduate (TPg) programmes, for which tuition fees are in effect determined by market competition.
“We’re also working to establish joint schools or colleges [with partners in the Greater Bay Area] to enrich students’ learning experience and tap into the possibilities for research and co-supervision of PhD students.” Cheng said.
“The rise of China in terms of education and research capability will be the key driver for partnerships and student mobility. China will move up the global pyramid as the ‘local knowledge’ aspect starts to count more.”
Professor Wenqin Shen, Associate Professor at Peking University’s Graduate School of Education, noted four main reasons for China’s increasing appeal to international students. One is generous scholarships at national level. Another is comparatively cheap tuition fees, especially for medicine and engineering.
Third is the now extensive alumni network. And fourth is “language capital”, which gives an advantage in the labour market.
A pressing challenge, though, is extending STEM research partnerships with overseas institutions amid sensitivities about anything high-tech.
“The number of science, engineering and computer science students going abroad has decreased very fast in the last two years,” Shen said.
Even so, Professor Shalendra Sharma, Associate Vice President (Quality Assurance and Internationalisation) at Lingnan University, was confident about future two-way exchanges, based on China’s burgeoning reputation for advances in nanotechnology, robotics and AI, and opportunites to transfer credits.
For Professor Anthony Welch, Professor of Education at the University of Sydney, partnerships benefit students, faculty members and research initiatives.
“It strengthens both sides,” he said. “Chinese universities are now hugely competitive and often world-leading.”