It is a two-way street. Student mobility across the border is increasing alongside the prospects for collaboration between higher education institutions, namely in the Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macau Greater Bay Area.
MB March 2021 Special Report | 40 years of (modern) tertiary education
This academic year alone, a total of 1,108 local senior high school graduates from 43 senior high schools have been recruited to universities in Guangdong, Beijing and Hubei to study medicine, education, economics, management and news reporting, according to official data from Higher Education Bureau of Macau.
On the other side, there are 17,922 non-local students, the overwhelming majority from Mainland China, studying in most of the 10 local higher education institutions. “More specifically, non-local students outnumber the locals in doctorate programs, mater’s programs and postgraduate diploma programs. Macau’s postgraduate programs are attractive to mainland graduates who wish to work and reside in Macau after graduation, and those who may treat Macau as ‘springboard’ for overseas education in a later stage,” explains Hayes Tang from the Education University of Hong Kong.
Another example of this integration is the campus of University of Macau in Hengqin. “Macau’s new educational space is simultaneously mapped onto the political space of the ‘One Country, Two Systems’, the conceptual space of globalized knowledge production, the territorial space of land lease, as well as the economic space of the Pearl River Delta regional co-prosperity,” according to Teresa Vong Sou Kuan Vong and Wu Jinting from the University of Macau’s Faculty of Education. “Hengqin campus represents a hybrid zone of governmentality and Macau’s search for a legitimate educational-regional identity. It also reflects a local–national–global synergy in the production of space and the forming of new dynamic relations between school and society,” both authors argue (Macau Higher Education Expansion in Flux: A Critical Spatial Perspective, 2017).
Macau Business asked Professor Vong about the idea of standardization. “For Macau and Mainland China, respectively the Greater Bay Area, it is too early to take any actions without substantial discussion,” she advises. “We first need a more comprehensive and practical framework that outlines the concepts, methods and evaluation standards of higher education development of the two places, in order to ensure that any standardization in the future is compatible for both sides, and is able to unite the best of each region, where each university can play a complementary role and promote the regional development of higher education.”
GBA’s grand plans
Higher education and research and development are important components of the Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macau Greater Bay Area Development Plan, unveiled in February 2019. The blueprint aims at enhancing “in-depth integration of industries, academia and research”. For that aim, higher education institutions and R&D institutes are encouraged in “jointly developing quality collaborative platforms for coordinated innovation, and promote the commercial application of technological achievements”.
A group of mainland Chinese researchers (Jinyuan Ma, Fan Jiang, Liujian Gu, Xiang Zheng, Xiao Lin and Chuanyi Wang) studied the “Patterns of the Network of Cross-Border University Research Collaboration in the Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macau Greater Bay Area” and concluded that “China’s elevation of the construction of the Greater Bay Area into a major national strategy in 2017, and the strengthening of the connectivity of the 9 + 2 urban agglomeration in the Greater Bay Area, provided unprecedented historical opportunities for deepening and expanding research collaboration among higher education institutions in this area.”
Among the suggestions put forth by this group of researchers is to improve the density and quality of research collaboration in the universities in the three regions. They underscore that the key lies in the circulation of talents and the rational allocation and complementary sharing of research resources, which requires the construction of a higher education innovation ecosystem  in the Greater Bay Area”
They also note that it is important to bear in mind that chapter eight of the development plan for the Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macau Greater Bay Area proposes “jointly building a humanistic Greater Bay Area.” Research collaborations in the field of the humanities and social sciences “would be conducive to achieving this goal by enhancing cultural identity among the three regions”.