Insight into Hong Kong’s tertiary education

Mr. Lim Soon Tiong (林顺忠先生), a graduate of the original Nanyang University of early Singapore (fondly known in Malaysia and Singapore as “Nanda”- 南洋大学) is a Malaysian who has made his many pots of gold in Hong Kong. He has been generously donating and funding educational initiatives to benefit young people in Hong Kong and Malaysia. One of his

limsoontiong
Ms. Lim Soon Tiong, a graduate of the original “Nanda” (南大) is a Malaysian who has made his mark in the business world of Hong Kong. Our delegation’s visit was his brainchild and was generously sponsored by him.

latest kind deeds was his organizing and funding of a five-days-four-nights study-visit by a group of seven college/university leaders to learn more about the tertiary education scene in Hong Kong. Fortunately for me, Mr. Lim had invited me to be a member of this group which we called ourselves in Chinese “大马民办高校香港高等教育考察团” (Delegation of Malaysian Community-supported Institutions of Higher Learning to Hong Kong).

Our group, led by Dr. Lim Chong Keang (New Era University College’s Chairman of the Board of Governors) was comprised of leaders of Malaysia’s three tertiary institutions which are fully funded and supported by the Chinese Malaysian community, namely New Era University College, Southern University College and Han Chiang College (in which I was associated and was in the process of being registered as a university college). Our benefactor, Mr. Lim Soon Tiong had managed to rope in Professor Nyaw MK  (饒美蛟教授), who is a very respected and accomplished educationist in Hong Kong to be the leader, chief planner and organizer to maximize the impact of our trip.

prof-nyaw-dr-limcq-cropped
Professor Nyaw MK (left) is a former Vice-President of Lingnan University here with Dr. Lim Chong Keang (Leader of the Delegation & Chairman of the Board of Governors, New Era University College).

The three institutions are considered by many Chinese educationists in Malaysia and Singapore as the successors of the original Nanyang University and hence many initiatives have been carried out by graduates of “Nanda” for the benefits of these three institutions.

Within a short time span of three full days, we visited six universities and colleges, all with its uniqueness that would give our group a deep, 360 degrees insight of the higher education scene in Hong Kong.

Day 1: The Chinese University of Hong Kong & Hang Seng Management College

We started off our hectic three days with one of Asia’s highest ranked universities, The Chinese University of Hong Kong. As I have had the opportunity to work as a postdoctoral researcher at the National University of Singapore (NUS), which is of the same “league” as CUHK, I could see many of the key characteristics of such high ranking institutions in CUHK. Starting from the greatly effective and efficient way that the international office planned out our visit to the arrangement for the meeting with the Vice-Chancellor that was done with military precision! The OxBridge-styled collegial system which was started from the inception of CUHK by the coming together of three independent colleges in 1963 has been proven to be highly effective in providing a sense of belonging for all students. It was a privilege and honour for me to have met Vice-Chancellor, Professor Joseph J.Y. Sung who is one of the “Asian Hero”, having led the team that contributed selflessly to the fighting of SARS epidemic in Hong Kong in 2003.

CUHK’s Vice-Chancellor Professor Joseph Sung (2nd from the right) is a prominent medical scientist and doctor who is one of the “Asian Hero” that fought the SARS epidemic in 2003.
CUHK’s Vice-Chancellor Professor Joseph Sung (2nd from the right) is a prominent medical scientist and doctor who is one of the “Asian Hero” that fought the SARS epidemic in 2003.

As all three Malaysian institutions had had a successful students exchange with CUHK this year (also sponsored kindly by Mr. Lim Soon Tiong) we felt very much “at home” at CUHK with several familiar faces such as Ms. Wendy Lou and Mr. Raymond Leung (who must have put in a lot of extra effort to make sure that we could maximize the impact of our visit). We were treated by Mr. Lim ST to a great lunch at the Hong Kong Jockey Club at Sha Tin. The Club has been the biggest benefactor of higher education institutions in Hong Kong for years.

Hong Kong Jockey Club is one of the biggest donors to higher education institutions in Hong Kong.
Hong Kong Jockey Club is one of the biggest donors to higher education institutions in Hong Kong.

The second institution we visited on Day 1 was Hang Seng Management College (HSMC) which was founded as the Hang Seng School of Commerce by several directors of the famed Hang Seng Bank (and the Hong Kong Hang Seng Index for stock market). Unlike CUHK, Han Seng Management College is a fully private and not-for-profit institution. Despite this big funding difference, HSMC is a very well equipped and well staffed institution of higher learning where many retired professors from the public institutions, notably CUHK have taken up appointments at HSMC thus conferring upon it a strong academic team under the leadership of President, Professor Simon S.M. Ho. Those of us who have visited or even worked for top ranked private universities and colleges in Malaysia would easily find HSMC as being better equipped (and better staffed) than their Malaysian equivalent. The hostels of HSMC was practical and yet reasonably priced for students. The campus, though not huge but is very well facilitated and well designed and built. Again the financial support of Hong Kong Jockey Club as well as that of the families of directors / founders of the Hang Seng Bank is very evident. Unlike CUHK, HSMC is very focused on niche areas of business and finance, mass communication, supply chain management, and interpretation & translation. HSMC also provides a niche area in humanities as well.

The training theatre for students reading interpretation and translation at Hang Seng Management College is one of most modern state-of-the art facility in Hong Kong.
The training theatre for students reading interpretation and translation at Hang Seng Management College is one of most modern state-of-the art facilities in Hong Kong.

We were introduced to the office bearers of the Chinese Executive Club (an association under the auspices of The Hong Kong Management Association) who treated us to a great dinner. Our benefactor, Mr. Lim ST is a former chairman of this Club which was founded to help business leaders who find it more comfortable to socialize and exchange ideas in their native tongue, Cantonese.

Day 2: Lingnan University & Chu Hai College of Higher Education

Lingnan University being known as “The Liberal Arts University of Hong Kong” has lived up to its mantra as it was named as one of the top ten liberal arts colleges in Asia by Forbes in 2015. Lignan, one of the eight public universities in Hong Kong, is the only institution of higher learning that practices a full four years residential system for all its undergraduate students. Thus being fully residential has conferred Lingnan with a unique way of enriching the on-campus lives for the students. It has a very innovative way of being “liberal arts centric” for its curriculum which stands its degree programmes apart from other institutions’ equivalent degree programmes. The teaching and learning at Lingnan which follow a very broad, almost North American curriculum styled, is a mix of liberal arts, humanities and general knowledge which gives its undergraduate students a more holistic education compared to the other Hong Kong colleges and universities which tend to favour and mirror the British system. I think because of this, Lingnan provides Malaysian diploma graduates with a more seamless transfer than other institutions in Hong Kong. Professor Leonard K. Cheng, President of Lingnan University hosted a working lunch for our delegation where he provided our group with a great insight to the higher education scene in Hong Kong. I was very intrigued by his account of his personal experiences of rising from a “semi legal” migrant from China to be an accomplished academician of today.

Professor Leonard Cheng (4th from the right) receiving a souvenir from our group leader, Dr. Lim CQ.
Professor Leonard Cheng (4th from the right) receiving a souvenir from our group leader, Dr. Lim CK.

Chu Hai College of Higher Education (CHC) is an independent, self-finance and privately operated institution. It traces its origin back to 1947 when the institution was founded in Guangzhou, China. Today it occupies a campus overlooking the mouth of the Pearl River which in the opinion of many, gives it one of the best scenery of Hong Kong. It gives significance to many Chinese Malaysians as it would have been the view that our ancestors were looking at when they left their homeland a century or more ago to come to “nanyang”, South East Asia. In contrast to Hang Seng Management College, CHC academic programmes cover four broad areas of Arts & Social Sciences; Science & Engineering; and Business. The academic programmes offered by CHC range from Communication, Journalism; Computer Science, Civil Engineering & Architecture; to Business Administration, Banking & Finance. It has a very state-of-the-art broadcasting studio for its journalism and communication students.

This view taken from Chu Hai College President Chang Ching Nan's office, offered the best view of the Pearl River mouth.
This view taken from Chu Hai College President Chang Ching Nan’s office, offered the best view of the Pearl River mouth.

Day 2 concluded with with a dinner at a posh restaurant specializing in cuisines from northern China at Tsim Sha Tsui area overlooking Hong Kong island which was a special treat by Professor Nyaw. We were also rewarded with the best night scenery of Hong Kong.

Day 3: The Open University of Hong Kong and The Institute of Vocational Education @ Chai Wan

I had the privilege of visiting The Open University of Hong Kong (OUHK) in 2000 when I worked for Pearson plc where I was fully impressed with the then 3-years-old university. Sixteen years later, OUHK, which modeled after the Open University of the United Kingdom (OUUK) has progressed by leaps and bounds from offering just the “traditional” distance and open learning university programmes to offering full-time studies for high school graduates along the same model as the eight Hong Kong public universities. Although OUHK was established by the Hong Kong Government, it is operating as a self-financing institution. Along with undergraduate, postgraduate and research academic programmes, OUHK is well known for its strengths in the continuing education and professional training sectors. OUHK’s motto in Chinese is (a) 有教无类 (learning opportunity regardless of race, prior qualifications and gender); (b) 宽进严出 (ease on entry but strict on graduation); (c) 终身学习 (lifelong learning) which it has, over the years been servicing the needs of working adults (and now young people) successfully. Perhaps due to its OUUK influence, OUHK is more advanced in its collaboration in terms of delivery of its programmes with foreign institutions. We were enlightened by Associate Vice President, Professor Y.K. Ip of OUHK’s successes and milestones. Professor Ip also gave us many ideas where potential collaborations between OUHK and our three institutions could be forged. We learned that OUHK’s thriving nursing programme was one of the most sought after by students as the profession provides one of the highest salary in Hong Kong.

One of the most popular degree programmes of OUHK is the nursing programme.
One of the most popular degree programmes of OUHK is the nursing programme.

I had the opportunity to visit the Vocational Training Council (VTC) of Hong Kong during my stint at Pearson plc. in early 2000 to learn about the effort by the Hong Kong Government to bridge the gap between academic and vocation education to serve the craving of Hong Kong’s economy for technical and vocational professionals. I had suggested to Mr. Lim ST and Professor Nyaw that our delegation’s visit would not be complete unless we look at Hong Kong’s tertiary education sector in totality by visiting one of VTC’s vocational training institutions. Our last stop for this visit was therefore to Hong Kong Institute of Vocational Education, Chai Wan (IVE-CW), hosted by Professor Sampson Poon, Principal of IVE-CW. The VTC is a government department which operates nine IVEs in Hong Kong which are fully funded by the Hong Kong Government. Hong Kong’s IVE perhaps have a lot of similarity with private colleges in Malaysia but with three notable exceptions. (1) Their facilities, especially the IT/computer science, culinary arts, videography, finance & investment, engineering and dispensary science (as evident in IVE-CW) are state-of-the-art, reflecting the vast investment by the VTC from the Hong Kong Government’s funding; (2) Their campuses aside from being better equipped than most Malaysian colleges, are very large, with great industrial linkages that ensure a career for every graduate; (3) The School of Higher and Professional Education (SHAPE) under VTC has been collaborating with foreign universities to offer top-up degree programmes for IVE’s higher diploma graduates for many years which is similar to top-up degree programmes that Malaysian private colleges were offering before the era of tight regulatory control of the Malaysian Qualifications Agency.  Another VTC’s institutions which is located at IVE-CW, Technological and Higher Education Institute of Hong Kong (THEi) offers its homegrown degree programmes under three faculties, namely, Design & Environment; Management & Hospitality; and Science & Technology. All together, twenty two homegrown bachelor degree programmes are offered by THEi. Thus together with SHAPE, THEi offer both homegrown as well as top-up degree programmes from external universities to IVE students.

The IVE in Hong Kong are better equipped than most private colleges in Malaysia. This is a shot on the Virtual Reality studio of IVE-CW.
The IVE in Hong Kong are better equipped than most private colleges in Malaysia. This is a shot of the Virtual Reality studio of IVE-CW.

The IVE system not only cater to the vocation education needs of Hong Kong people but also provides a “second chance” for high school graduates who are academically inclined but for whatever reason, have missed the boat of public/private universities to use the IVE’s diploma-higher diploma route towards an academic degree. The seamless continuation pathway for students in vocational training of the IVE system is one that Malaysia will do well to emulate. I was also intrigued by Professor Poon’s philosophy of teaching practical English usage to his diploma students rather than the “standard” academic English that some would find daunting.

From the left: Prof Nyaw MK, Prof Simpson Poon (of Institute of Vocational Education, Chai Wan), Mr. Lim Soon Tiong, and Mr. Mok Chek Hou (Deputy Chairman, Board of Governors of Southern University College) during a dinner hosted by Mr. Lim ST where the famous “大闸蟹” (lake large crab) was served.
From the left: Prof Nyaw MK, Prof Simpson Poon (of Institute of Vocational Education, Chai Wan), Mr. Lim Soon Tiong, and Mr. Mok Chek Hou (Deputy Chairman, Board of Governors of Southern University College) during a dinner hosted by Mr. Lim ST where the famous “大闸蟹” (lake large crab) was served.
Take Home Insights

Despite its economic strength and having a population of over seven millions, Hong Kong has only 20 degree-awarding higher education institutions compared to around 500 plus public and private tertiary institutions in Malaysia, about half of which offer degree programmes (either homegrown or in collaboration with local / foreign universities). This goes perhaps to show that quality and quantity as far as higher education is concern must be well balanced!

  1. The eight public universities are very well funded by the Hong Kong Government and overall their collective reputation worldwide is very high.
  2. The Hong Kong Government invests heavily in the remaining 18 degree-awarding institutions which are self-financing by generously providing them with land for their campuses, thus removing one of the highest investments in any such institutions.
  3. The self-financing institutions have access to interest-free loan for the development of their institutions from the Hong Kong Government.
    Thus via (2) and (3) above, the Hong Kong Government exerts indirect control over the development of the higher education sector and ensures its sustainability.
  4. Although the Hong Kong Council for Accreditation of Academic and Vocational Qualifications (HKCAAVQ) which is the equivalent body to the Malaysian Qualifications Agency (MQA), exert control over the standard of higher education in Hong Kong, all non-public institutions are allowed to award homegrown degrees without having Malaysia’s equivalent of “university college” status so long as all requirements of HKCAAVQ are fulfilled. This provides Hong Kong colleges with a competitive advantage over their Malaysian counterparts.
  5. The Hong Kong Jockey Club (HKJC) annually provides a huge amount of funding to higher education in Hong Kong. All the six institutions we visited have received substantial funding from HKJC which allowed buildings to be erected in the respective campuses, thus defraying another substantial cost element, especially for the self-financing institutions.
  6. The technical, vocational education and training sector of Hong Kong is very well run by the VTC and well funded by the Hong Kong Government. The seamless progression pathways to academic degrees for IVE higher diploma holders and the fact that the VTC has gained HKCAAVQ’s approval to offer twenty two homegrown degree programmes are testament to this observation.

There is just one big issue for any Malaysians who aspire to study in Hong Kong for a degree… that is, cost. Non-local students have to pay 30% more at both public and self-financing institutions, with the former’s tuition fees at HK$70,000 per year and latter’s being at around HK$130,000. The good news is, most Hong Kong institutions of higher learning do offer some form of financial aids to Malaysian students with the required academic credentials. Thus students in diploma programmes in Malaysian colleges with good tie-up with Hong Kong institutions (for example the three institutions represented in our delegation) will stand a better chance of getting some financial aids with collaborating institutions.

The IVEs which charge around HK$70,000 per year may be a bit more attractive to Malaysian students as their diploma and higher diploma can be completed by student with SPM (GCE ‘O’ level equivalent) qualifications only in two years. This allows such students to take another year to earn a top-up degree. The total time spent to earn a degree via the IVE-system will be about three years.

Since 2012 Hong Kong had changed from a 3-years degree to a 4-years degree system, Malaysian students will need to budget for four years of tuition fees if they want to study in Hong Kong. In addition, unlike the IVE system, SPM holders will need to complete STPM / GCE ‘A’ levels or foundation programme to be eligible for entry into Hong Kong institutions offering undergraduate degree programmes. Hence the IVE system or the Malaysian private colleges’ diploma provide better (shorter and perhaps cheaper) routes to a degree in Hong Kong.

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