Top universities set their sights on Hong Kong’s acres

Leading universities around the world are lining up to bid for perhaps the most desirable site yet reserved for open competition to host a branch campus.
The Hong Kong government has received a large number of enquiries for the 25-acre Queen’s Hill site once occupied by the British garrison. The successful university may be named by the end of the year.

Seven overseas universities or colleges already have bases in Hong Kong. But none is on the scale of the proposed branch campus, which could accommodate 8,000 students and rival the island’s own highly successful institutions.

The award of the Queen’s Hill development will mark the latest stage in a transformation of Hong Kong’s education system, designed to produce global leaders.  Top-to-bottom reforms have seen a restructuring of the school and higher education curricula to encourage greater creativity and flexibility.

In higher education, the Hong Kong government has moved away from the British system that it inherited. Although officials deny that there is any one model, the new four-year undergraduate degrees will have more in common with American universities.

The switch has meant two school cohorts applying for a single year’s university places, with a resulting boom in applications to overseas universities. British universities alone have seen a 37 per cent increase in applications from Hong Kong.

The level of competition for places at Hong Kong’s five existing universities will begin to settle down next year, but demand for higher education will continue to outstrip supply. And, as a distinctive and prosperous setting on the doorstep of mainland China, Hong Kong is also an attractive destination for students from the rest of Asia and beyond.

Branch campuses – and particularly the Queen’s Hill site – are expected to play an important role in establishing Hong Kong as a regional education hub. At a briefing on the reforms ahead of the British Council’s Going Global conference in London, Kenneth Chen, the Under Secretary for Education, said: “We want an environment where institutions can set up easily in Hong Kong, so the land is being offered at a nominal premium.”

American and British universities are among those to have shown interest in the project, but formal applications will not be sought until later in the year. American universities are the most prolific originators of overseas branch campuses, with 78 already in existence.

A recent report by the Observatory on Borderless Education forecast substantial growth in the current total of 200 branch campuses over the next three years. Of 37 already at the planning stage, 13 were initiatives by American universities and colleges in locations that included China, Korea and Rwanda.

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