China seeks to keep Hong Kong close with mainland campuses

Greater Bay Area outposts offer more space, government funding and industry collaboration opportunities

October 26, 2020
Guests watch a trailer on a giant screen during the opening ceremony of the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau Bridge
Source: Getty

Hong Kong’s universities are planning a string of new campuses in mainland China, opening up opportunities for more government funding and closer business ties.

Development is already under way for four campuses to be opened by The Hong Kong University of Science and Technology (HKUST), City University of Hong Kong (CityU), Hong Kong Polytechnic University and the Open University of Hong Kong in the Greater Bay Area, a government initiative to create a Silicon Valley-style technology hub linking Guangdong province with Hong Kong and Macao. The institutions will be following in the footsteps of the University of Hong Kong and the Chinese University of Hong Kong, which already have teaching hospitals and facilities on the mainland.

Universities in Hong Kong are running out of room for expansion in one of the world’s priciest and most densely populated cities, and operating on the other side of the border offers affordable space, as well as opportunities for industry collaboration.

However, political tensions remain, and Hong Kong’s young people have been wary of crossing the border, a situation exacerbated by police responses to protests last year and the passing of a controversial national security law this year.

This is a situation that Xi Jinping, the Chinese leader, seems to be trying to rectify. During a speech in the city of Shenzhen on 14 October, he said new measures should “fully utilise the important platform of [regional] cooperation to attract more young people from Hong Kong and Macao to study, work and live in the mainland”. This would help to “bring their hearts closer to the motherland”.

A few days after his speech, it was announced that Shenzhen would be given greater legal leeway in some areas, for example issuing visas for foreign talent.

David Zweig, emeritus professor of social science at HKUST, said industry ties were “definitely better” on the mainland. Campuses could tap into a market of “excellent students who do not have to travel to Hong Kong or get visas for Hong Kong, but can study while staying in the mainland”, he added.

If faculty are teaching on mainland campuses, “they can probably apply for mainland funding more easily”, Professor Zweig continued.

Steve Tsang, director of the China Institute at SOAS University of London, told Times Higher Education that “the central issue is Xi’s idea of bringing Hong Kong students closer to the mainland. Or, to put it more bluntly, Xi is trying to bring young people close to the ‘fatherland’ and learn to love it, rather than get ‘indoctrinated’ with ideas imported from the West.”

Hong Kong-branded campuses on the mainland must be set up as joint-venture universities, similar to foreign-branded schools such as NYU Shanghai and Duke Kunshan University. The general practice is for a mainland partner or municipality to underwrite the space and construction.

CityU, which will establish a campus in the industrial city of Dongguan, potentially in 2023, “has been planning on setting up a campus in the Greater Bay Area for a long time”, according to a spokesperson. The initial plan is to enrol a few thousand students, at both undergraduate and postgraduate level.

HKUST (Guangzhou) is set to open in 2022 in Guangdong’s provincial capital with postgraduate programmes. Longer-term plans are for the campus to include undergraduates and to grow to 10,000 students.

Wei Shyy, HKUST’s president, said “the Greater Bay Area is a platform that can be used to strengthen cooperation with Shenzhen and other mainland cities, combining Hong Kong’s research talent with the industrial advantages of the mainland”.

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