Special Report – Adding value

The Government is keen on turning higher education into an industry that can contribute to the diversification of the local economy. 

MB March 2021 Special Report | 40 years of (modern) tertiary education


After being elected as Chief Executive (CE) of Macau, Ho Iat Seng gave an interview to Xinhua in which he stated: Macau should make full use of its university resources and transform them into industries with high-tech products such as 5G telecommunication and other emerging industries.

The idea might have gone somehow unnoticed, but Ho Iat Seng made it clear in his maiden Policy Address (2020): “We will boost the entrepreneurship of higher education institutions. We will continue to support teaching and scientific research of higher education institutions and the transformation of their scientific and technological results, to encourage them to innovate and develop their cross-disciplinary activities with a view to increasing Macau’s scientific research capacity.”

The same document also promises “to promote the fusion of technology and the economy, in order to maximize the contribution of technological advancement to economic growth.” And in order to achieve the desired results, there was a promise to create a “Specialized Group for the Industrialization of Results of Research,” (see text on those pages) at the Higher Education Council.

Last April, during the Policy Address debates, the CE went further: as “each student [at local tertiary institutions] costs around MOP250,000 per year and many of these students are not local residents and we need to support over 100,000 of those.” Ho added that higher education has to be a self-sustaining business and cannot continue to be too reliant on public money.

“We cannot continue to spend so many resources on students [mostly] from the mainland who afterward will not even stay in Macau and work in Macau,” the Chief Executive said, leaving a very suggestive comparison: local institutions are charging the students tuition fees “that are lower than some kindergartens in China.” About 94 per cent of students from abroad come from mainland China.

Ho Iat Seng went further: the ten higher education institutions have a relatively small number of students, which is even lower than the number of local students who are studying abroad (see the attached table).

It was not the first time that this topic had been discussed in Macau, but things never sounded so clear-cut. 

The Higher Education regime (2017) was more focused on objectives such as: 

“To promote research and development in the cultural, scientific and technological areas” or “To promote innovation and the local potential of scientific research,” ideas that the administration of Chui Sai On had remarked on several occasions, namely through then Secretary for Social Affairs and Culture, Alexis Tam.

However, in the last year of Chui Sai On’s government it was already written that “we will reinforce the realization of fundamental research and applied research projects and we will reinforce the integration between industry, academia and research.”

“A university is not only an institution that gives students chances to obtain knowledge and skills, but also a means to avoid social unrest, enrich the talent pool and bring a brighter future for Macau,” underscored Teresa Vong Sou Kuan, Associate Professor at the University of Macau’s Faculty of Education. “As a general remark, the government should not merely consider higher education as an achievement project but should take greater responsibility to help universities return back as academic institutions, in order to achieve the diverse goals mentioned above,” she explained to Macau Business.


“I think that the idea of closer attention to value for money in higher education is very sound” – Keith Morrison

In the same vein are the words of leading Macau-based educationist, Keith Morrison. “Narrow vocationalism risks dumbing down higher education,” he told Macau Business. “I see this repeatedly in some higher education outputs in Macau; I have seen so many graduates of higher education institutions in Macau who simply don’t know enough and whose focus is on narrow instrumentalism.  Higher education is not simply or solely a service industry, and a high-quality university is much more than simply a business.”

Regarding the costs of higher education in Macau, Keith Morrison, who currently serves as Vice Rector at USJ, agrees with the Chief Executive: “I think that the idea of closer attention to value for money in higher education is very sound, as some higher education institutions in Macau are flabby and wasteful, and their quality is suspect; it would be interesting to see which higher education institution(s) he was referring to, his figures are not the case for one, maybe even more than one, private institution of higher education in Macau.”

Number of higher education students (2018/2019)

 Studying in Macau Studying abroad
Local students 16,287 18,526
Non-local students 17,992 

Industry-University-Research

In October 2019, the Higher Education Council created the Specialized Group for the Industrialization of Research Results, “with the aim of studying support policies and measures that can contribute to the promotion of the development of Industry-University-Research in higher education institutions in Macau, in order to encourage them to actively carry out the work of transforming scientific and technological results and to promote the development of Macau’s Industry-University-Research.”

The Specialized Group held its first meeting in June 2020, with the institutions presenting the current situation of the development of Industry-University-Research. Macau Business learned that the group had already met once this year.

According to many of the institutions, a note from the Higher Education Bureau indicated that the difficulties are mainly due to the lack of qualified professional staff, which makes it difficult to create teams to promote their work.