Special Report – Is Hong Kong no longer a model?

Universities in Hong Kong maintain their trademark as reference in East Asia, but the neighbouring city’s model is not without its flaws.

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

Several reasons explain the gap between universities in Hong Kong and those in Macau.

One is, of course, the history: just remember that the University of Hong Kong was founded in 1911 and that it was only in 1981 that University of East Asia was established, when the then neighbouring colony had six higher education institutions in operation.

But there are other arguments, which researcher Hayes Tang from the Education University of Hong Kong, summarizes to Macau Business: “I think the main difference between Hong Kong and Macau lies in the different level of internationalisation, ‘world-class’ status and academic culture.”

According to this Assistant Professor, “this serves as one reason why Hong Kong academic profession has more to consider when it decides to open up for privatisation or private interests or not. Given the importance of scholarly prestige, Hong Kong devotes resources for advancing its world class status based on the strong professoriate, good international networks and academic culture.”

“While Hong Kong’s universities have long been recognized as a trademark of its world city status, educational development in Macau (both at the non-tertiary and at the tertiary level) seems fragmented, without concrete visions or plans,” underlines Professor Teresa Vong Sou Kuan from the University of Macau. And yes, “universities in Hong Kong continue to possess this trademark due to its long-term accumulation,” adds the researcher from UM’s Faculty of Education to Macau Business.

Professor Vong and her colleague Wu Jinting are the authors of an important research paper called Macau Higher Education Expansion in Flux: A Critical Spatial Perspective, where they state: “while the model of Hong Kong and foreign institutions is based on an export of educational services, the Macau model is unique and intriguing.” Both authors also wrote: “Whether it is the political innovation of ‘One Country, Two Systems’, or its recent crowning as the Asian gaming hub, or more than 400 years of East–West cultural interaction, Macau thrives on symbolism.”

“When planning the development of Macau higher education, the blueprint should be rooted in local development and also facing the future. We also need to identify our strengths, for example, making use of the fact that Macau is a safe place comparing with other regions, in order to develop Macau as an academic exchange hub, for instance, attract the world’s top experts and hold international academic conferences,” advises Ms Vong.

Other differences, noted by Bill K. Chou, former Professor at University of Macau and now at Hong Kong Baptist University: “The paradox of the quality of education and education policy in Hong Kong and Macau is that, although the quality of education in Macau is inferior to that of Hong Kong, Macau has a more moderate policy of education reform, with little intervention in the autonomy of schools.”

“The paradox of the quality of education and education policy in Hong Kong and Macau is that, although the quality of education in Macau is inferior to that of Hong Kong, Macau has a more moderate policy of education reform, with little intervention in the autonomy of schools” – Bill Chou

This is explained due to the influence of “its colonial era system and economic development status on the relationship between the quality of education and education policy. Macau faces less foreign competition than Hong Kong and has a monolithic economic structure that is less demanding of its personnel, which influences quality of education requirements,” according to Professor Chou.

“Hong Kong is facing a lot of pressure from the party-state to be more like Macau since it is also governed by the ‘one country, two systems” principle,” wrote former University of Macau’s Professor Hao Zhidong in his last book. Hong Kong’s and Macau’s higher education fares a bit better, but mainlandization, meaning doing things the way they are done in mainland China, is becoming more and more serious,” in the eyes of Mr. Hao. 

No female leadership

“Silent Witness: Why are Women Missing from Hong Kong Academic Leadership?” This is a fundamental report to understand how women are removed from the decision-making places of the main universities in Hong Kong.

“Out of 110 positions at the level of dean and above, figures from 2016 show that only eight are taken up by women (7.3 per cent). Hong Kong does not currently have a woman president/vice-chancellor. If we look further down the academic hierarchy in Hong Kong, the figures do not significantly improve; women comprise only 18.7 per cent of associate and assistant deans and heads of department,” state the author, Sarah Jane Aiston, Hon. Associate Professor University of Hong Kong.

There is no such detailed study in Macau, but Professor Ana Correia, who once studied the (residual) female leadership in Macau schools (all levels of education), told Macau Business that “the problem is not over.”

Of the 10 higher education institutions, only Kiang Wu Nursing College and the Institute for Tourism Studies have women at the top. “Exceptions add strength to the rules,” comments the current professor at the University of Saint Joseph.