Both China (PRC) and the Hong Kong SAR offer an expanding and highly competitive market opportunity for overseas higher education institutions (HEIs). As noted in a recent report commissioned by the British Council (UK-China-Hong Kong Transnational Education Project), a number of UK HEIs are providing hundreds of new ‘international’ degree programmes in Hong Kong and China.
According to the Hong Kong Education Bureau, in January 2008 there were over 400 degree programmes run by 36 different UK HEIs in Hong Kong. On the one hand, UK HEIs can be seen to work as independent operators, offering a number of courses to local students registered with the Hong Kong Education Bureau under the ‘Non-local Higher and Professional Education (Regulation) Ordinance’. At the same time, UK HEIs have also initiated a series of collaborations between UK and Hong Kong HEIs. These collaborations are exempted from registration under the Ordinance. In January 2008 there were over 150 registered- and 400 exempted-courses run by 36 different UK HEIs in Hong Kong.
These are a relatively recent phenomenon – according to the British Council Report, more than 40% of joint initiatives in Hong Kong were begun after 2003. Overall, the UK is a significant provider of international education services in Hong Kong, providing 63% of ‘non-local’ courses (compared to 22% from Australia, 5% from the USA and 1% from Canada). These links were bolstered by the ‘Memorandum of Understanding on Education Cooperation’ signed on 11th May 2006 by Arthur Li (Secretary for Education and Manpower HK) and Bill Rammell (Minister of State for Higher Education and Lifelong Learning UK). The memorandum aims, amongst other things, to strengthen partnerships and strategic collaboration between the UK and Hong Kong.
UK HEIs’ involvement in delivering HE in China is ostensibly less well developed. However, in 2006, UK HEIs provided the QAA (Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education) with information on 352 individual links with 232 Chinese HE institutions or organisations. Some recent significant developments with respect to international ‘partnerships’ with Chinese institutions include Xi’an Jiaotong Liverpool University (XJTLU), located in Suzhou in China, and The University of Nottingham Ningbo, which is sponsored by the City of Ningbo, China, with cooperation from Zhejiang Wanli University. Other examples of UK-China international partnerships include: Leeds Metropolitan University and Zhejiang University of Technology; Queen Mary, University of London and Beijing University of Posts and Telecommunications; The Queen’s University of Belfast and Shenzhen University; and the University of Bedfordshire and the China Agricultural University.
In 2006, the QAA conducted audits of 10 selected partnerships between UK and Chinese HEIs in order to establish if and how UK institutions were maintaining academic standards within these partnerships. The main findings are that:
- nearly half (82) of all UK higher education institutions reported that they are involved in some way in providing higher education opportunities in China;
- there is great variety in the type of link used to deliver UK awards in China, the subjects studied and the nature of the awards;
- in 2005-06 there were nearly 11,000 Chinese students studying in China for a UK higher education award, 3,000 of whom were on programmes that would involve them completing their studies in the UK;
- institutions’ individual arrangements for managing the academic standards and quality of learning opportunities are generally comparable with programmes in the UK and reflect the expectations of the Code of practice for the assurance of academic quality and standards in higher education (Code of practice), Section 2: Collaborative provision and flexible and distributed learning (including e-learning), published by QAA.
The map profiled above was extracted from this report. A similar exercise was carried out in 2007 on partnerships between 6 UK HEIs and Hong Kong HEIs.
These practices and partnerships exemplify the international outlook of many UK HEIs, and underscore the perceived (significant) role of China in their future planning and policies. Unlike Hong Kong, China is seen as market ripe for expansion, with substantial unmet demand for higher education that will only grow into the future. China is by far the biggest ‘source’ country of international students globally, and UK institutions are increasingly recognising the possibility of taking their educational programmes to the students.