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Reflection on the Rationales and Realities of International Student Exchange in the Era of Globalization: The Case of Hong Kong

Project Scheme:
General Research Fund
Project Year:
2018/2019
Project Leader:
Dr PAN, Suyan
(Department of Social Sciences)
Reflection on the Rationales and Realities of International Student Exchange in the Era of Globalization: The Case of Hong Kong

This project is proposed to reflect on the mentality, motivation, and measures that are shaping the new wave of cross-border student mobility in the era of globalisation.

This project is proposed to reflect on the mentality, motivation, and measures that are shaping the new wave of cross-border student mobility in the era of globalisation. In the past decade, research and policy making surrounding these issues are mainly based on three theoretical discourses: a neo-liberal discourse focusing on the competition for increasing the market share of international mobile students; a soft power discourse aiming to boost the study destination’s reputation in the world through hosting international students; and a global citizenship discourse invoking a range of values and abilities important for international students from different cultural backgrounds to develop cross-cultural awareness and employable capacities needed to serve global job markets.

 

Working from these discourses helps to explain the rationales behind policies driving higher education (HE) institutions in Hong Kong (HK) towards “internationalisation”, which is increasingly outward-looking in international student recruitment, seeking to align HK’s educational capacity with the city’s geostrategic aspirations. However, they are inadequate to explain three paradoxical phenomena: First, HK higher education is assumed to be attractive. As Professor Way Kuo (2012, para. 1-3), President of the City University of Hong Kong, notes, “Our universities rank among the best in the world; our professors are well respected; we have strong historical ties to Britain; and Hong Kong, we are told, is Asia's world city, the bridge between East and West, the gateway to China.” But why are so few international students coming to HK? And really how attractive are HK universities in students’ eyes?

 

Second, much has been discussed about making HK “the education hub of the region”, to boost the city’s knowledge economy (University Grants Committee (UGC), 2004). Using the market approach, many institutions were tempted to make profits out of non-local students (Cheng, 2013). However, the assumed profitable international outreach has been heavily dependent on the HK government’ expenditure. How beneficial would it be for HK to engage in higher education institution internationalisation through a market approach? What could HK’s competitive advantage be in comparison to other major destinations for international students in the Asia-Pacific region (e.g., New Zealand, Australia, and mainland China)?

 

Third, with the government’s financial support, HK universities are expected to enhance global competencies, by promoting students’ global exposure and education exchange experiences through internships, study trips, and academic cooperation (UGC, 2015). To that end, university curricula invoke the idea of “global citizenship”, which aims to equip students with cross-cultural awareness, marketable skills, and employable capacities (The University of Hong Kong, 2016). Yet, the effectiveness of translating global citizenship ideals from the curricula aims into students’ actions is less evident in HK than it is in Singapore (Ta Kung Pao, 2017).

 

These paradoxical phenomena highlight the gap between the rational-driven policies on HE internationalisation and the practices in terms of how they function and are perceived. How to address this gap is a question that has gone largely unnoticed in the government and/or universities’ internal audits or evaluations, and is still under-researched in scholarly work in a HK context. This project aims to fill this research void by bringing students’ experience into a reflection of existing mental images of how internationalisation in HEIs works and should work. Mixed research methods will be employed, including documentation study, questionnaire surveys, and semi-structured interviews with students to address the research questions. The research outcomes will bring empirical findings and refined analytical categories to reflect on policies for strategically situating HK in the global HE community, to critically examine existing theories and ideas underlying current pathways to HE internationalisation, and to compare with current developments in this area in America, Europe, and Australia.