Northern Metropolis University Town has key role to play in building education hub


    This article appeared originally in China Daily on 8 Dec, 2023.
    Authors: Victor Kwok, Assistant Research Director, Bubble Lui, Assistant Researcher, Our Hong Kong Foundation


    The 2023 Policy Address introduced measures to develop Hong Kong into an international postsecondary education hub. Since then, society’s discussion has mostly been on the expansion of nonlocal students’ intake, including the implications of raising regulatory caps and increasing scholarships for nonlocal students.

    However, the novel and transformative measure of developing the Northern Metropolis University Town has garnered less attention. This massive and long-term project to gather top local and overseas institutions in the Northern Metropolis is equally important; it is indeed a big step forward to expand and internationalize Hong Kong’s education.

    The concept of a university town is relatively new to Hong Kong society but is not unheard of globally. It is a place where higher education institutions are grouped together with shared facilities. The setup can include solely overseas world-renowned institutions, solely local institutions, or a mix of overseas and local institutions. The town can be located next to economic zones to foster school-industry partnerships.

    Major benefits include: building the international reputation and attractiveness of Hong Kong as a location for further studies through importing world-renowned overseas institutions; increasing land for local institutions to alleviate their current capacity limitations and allow them to recruit more students; and enhancing school-industry partnerships to prepare students for work and increase employment opportunities by locating them next to economic zones.

    One example is the Incheon Global Campus (IGC), a South Korean government-led “university town”. Currently, four universities from the United States and Belgium, such as the State University of New York, are located in IGC with shared facilities, where students from different universities share hostels, libraries, auditoriums, classrooms, and health centers.

    In terms of programs, IGC’s courses are run by the US or Belgian home campuses in which students take the same educational curriculum, are required to study one year on the home campus, and ultimately obtain the same degree as students at the home campus.

    IGC’s school-industry partnership is one of the setups Hong Kong can learn from. Similar to the Northern Metropolis development plans, IGC is located physically next to the Incheon Free Economic Zone, where renowned organizations and companies are located. Leveraging the advantageous location, IGC universities have memorandums of understanding with leading bio companies such as Samsung Biologics and Celltrion, to facilitate students’ employment during their studies and after graduation.

    Another example is Education City in Qatar, a 12-square-kilometer university town consisting of eight world-renowned overseas and local universities, as well as 13 local pre-university schools. Notable overseas universities include Northwestern University in Qatar, Weill Cornell Medicine-Qatar, and HEC Paris in Qatar, where they offer undergraduate and postgraduate education in journalism and communication, premedical and medical studies, and professional senior management education respectively.

    Building the Northern Metropolis University Town is a long-term project. At this initial planning stage, the government of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region and education institutions should consider the following two questions:

    First, which institutions should be included? On one hand, attracting prestigious Chinese mainland and overseas institutions, such as Peking University, Tsinghua University, and the Ivy League universities will undeniably diversify Hong Kong’s education opportunities and greatly increase its attractiveness. This will not only attract more overseas students who want to be exposed to the East-meets-West experience or those who want to pursue studies in these prestigious universities but find it easier and most cost-effective to study in Hong Kong; it will also help retain more local talents to pursue their studies here.

    On the other hand, including local institutions in the Northern Metropolis can facilitate capacity expansion and further development. Currently, plenty of local institutions indicate that the lack of class facilities and student space limits their ability to expand student recruitment and program development. The extra land allows institutions to build more facilities, such as classrooms and hostels. More importantly, shared facilities can maximize space and resource usage. For instance, sharing high-cost laboratories and equipment would be more cost-effective in the long term.

    Therefore, the Northern Metropolis University Town can include a mix of local and nonlocal institutions with shared facilities. This would strengthen Hong Kong’s international reputation, facilitate local institutions’ development, and deepen cross-institution collaboration in which students and teachers from different institutions can exchange ideas, achieving the best of both worlds.

    Second, how to maximize the advantages of the Northern Metropolis? With the government’s Office for Attracting Strategic Enterprises’ continuous effort, numerous enterprises, especially technology companies, are set to expand their businesses in the Northern Metropolis. This would lead to an increase in talent demand and present a golden opportunity for education institutions. The government and education institutions should leverage this opportunity to prepare students for work and retain talents upon graduation. This includes coordinating internship programs, credit-bearing industry exposure, and graduate employment opportunities.

    Building the Northern Metropolis University Town is a long-term, challenging but rewarding project. With collaborative input and effort from the government, education institutions, and the public, the Northern Metropolis University Town can gather the world’s top institutions and resources and raise Hong Kong’s international status to a new level.