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Higher Educational System in Post-Colonial Hong Kong



Introduction

In February 2012, the accounting firm of Ernst & Young released its Globalization Index for 2011, and, for the second straight year, Hong Kong sat atop the list of the world’s most globalized economies. While on its face, this seems like a tremendous accomplishment, it is even more remarkable, considering the potential upheaval that Hong Kong faced just a mere fifteen years ago.

On July 1, 1997, amid mass all-night celebrations steeped in pomp and circumstance, the United Kingdom transferred control over Hong Kong back to the People’s Republic of China. For over 150 years, Hong Kong was a colony of Great Britain and this handover marked the dawn of a new era. However, once the parties ended and the Chinese flag took the place of the Union Jack, the questions remained as to how Hong Kong would face the inevitable challenges as it transitioned from a British colony to a Chinese city.

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Fifteen years later, despite the concerns that the freedoms it enjoyed under British rule would slowly erode, Hong Kong continues to flourish economically as the world’s premier global city. It is worth noting that globalization in Hong Kong does not only affect its economic system, but it also has an impact on almost every aspect of people’s day-to-day lives. How Hong Kong prepares its young people for this new, globalized reality is important not only to maintain its position as a global leader but for its ability to keep its national identity and unique culture. In this paper, we will identify and expound on the influence that globalization has had on the higher educational system in post-colonial Hong Kong through the eyes of one of its residents - a 19-year-old Hong Kong University student, Ming Chan.

Globalization and Its Effects on Education

What are the divergent views about globalization? Some define globalization as the emergence of international institutions, such as the World Bank, the IMF, as well as, other supranational corporations whose decisions shape policy options for several nation-states across the globe. The globalization process is seen as the one which reshapes national boundaries in ways that local events are influenced by the decisions and events that happen ashore and vice-versa. According to Burbules (2000), the emerging global economy is more flexible and fluid, which requires individuals to learn fast and work in creative and reliable ways. This new economy calls for equivalent changes in the education sector to create a new generation of workers that can counter these challenges.

The pressure is mounting for countries, such as Hong Kong, to develop their educational policies and goals that seek to restructure the higher education system in line with entrepreneurial lines to offer supple educational responses that suit the new industrial production. Highly globalized economies like the one of Hong Kong need university students to learn certain decontextualized knowledge. Moreover, it makes them become innovative, creative, and flexible to solve new issues. According to Stiglitz (2003), the education system structure in this age of globalization is expected to follow in the steps of private companies in line with their management and organization.

Furthermore, learning and interaction are expected with the outside world using sophisticated IT equipment. It is imperative to note that the knowledge cycle in a knowledge-based society is short since information spreads at a fast rate. Talents are cultivated through education for the overall development of the society in this extremely competitive and globalized universe.

Dissertation Topics in Education

Effects of Education Reform in Hong Kong

According to reform proposals meant for Hong Kong’s education system, the world has changed a lot, so their education system is expected to. In recent years, the world has experienced tremendous technological, economic, cultural, and social changes. According to a Report on Manpower Projection to 2007 (2003), the usual industrial economy is slowly changing into a novel knowledge-based economy. Industries are fast becoming institutions that base their production on knowledge, innovation, and technology.

The key to success for individuals, organizations, and industries include the conception, modernization, and application of knowledge. Postman (1992) agrees to the fact that the fast development in the IT sector has eliminated the territorial restrictions for finance, trade, transport, and communication. Considering all the above mentioned, education change in Hong Kong is inevitable if the city has to face all the challenges that come with the increasingly globalized world.

The education reform that has taken place in Hong Kong is meant to nurture students with excellent abilities in mathematics and languages, independent interpersonal and learning skills, long-term learning skills, extensive knowledge base, and fine exposure in physical, moral, civic, and aesthetic areas. All these changes in Hong Kong’s academic structure are a swift response to the worldwide educational pattern. The globalization of knowledge has put a high premium on the integration of applied and theoretical learning. The government has carried out a proactive approach and reviewed its education system; reforms that are started are meant to nurture more innovative and creative citizens that would suit the current globalized economy.

Mok, Ka-ho, Joshua & David Chan (2002) state that the institutions of higher learning in Hong Kong have been presented with a time of liberal opportunities as well as challenges. The current revolution has forced these institutions to focus more on the knowledge as the chief asset of any corporation. As one of the most open economies in the world, Hong Kong envisages being a vivacious knowledge-based economy. It has become an economy that is starting to take shape in richer Asian nations, such as Singapore.

The government in Hong Kong has used an open educational policy and heavily emphasized the reform in the education system. Over a short period, the Hong Kong Government has made several strategic decisions that relate to education. It has enacted a non-local professional and higher education Ordinance that is meant to protect the city’s consumers. It restricts the marketing of substandard non-local professional and higher education courses introduced in the city. Furthermore, it upholds the city’s reputation of a community that values reliable and globally accepted academic and professional standards.

The ordinance requires all overseas programs conducted in Hong Kong to be registered unless they are offered in partnership with local tertiary institutions. However, the registration is meant to facilitate and legitimize the globalization or exportation of programs of legal overseas institutions in the city. Notably, wholly distant learning courses are exempt from registration. According to the Education and Manpower Bureau (2004), most policy objectives meant for education in Hong Kong are concentrated on transforming the city into a regional and globalized center of brilliance in higher education. Funding cuts in most tertiary institutions forced many post-graduate programs to become self-funded. Local institutions had to search for new ways to improve their income base, including exporting their programs to China. Overseas programs became competitive and attractive to learners on the local scene.

According to the Hong Kong Trade Development Council (2005), Hong Kong’s higher education system now serves people in China and other countries in Asia. Immigration control has been relaxed with respect to programs and institutions that admit non-local students. Institutions now admit students from Taiwan, Macau and the Mainland. Hong Kong seeks to further export education to many institutions of higher education in the Mainland. An MoU was signed between Hong Kong and the China Central Government’s Education Ministry. However, this trend of globalization has proved to be affecting weaker Hong Kong institutions. Competition is no longer limited to local higher learning institutions as it was in the past.

Higher education institutions currently face vicious competition for resources, students, and teachers on a global scale. Moreover, some universities easily break the barriers of space, especially those from developed nations like Canada, Australia, the United States, and Britain. E-learning programs are now on the increase, especially those from overseas institutions. There is fear that most Hong Kong citizens may take up e-learning with overseas institutions as they embrace modernity.

Another side effect of globalization on Hong Kong’s higher education system is the fact that the government keeps on setting an endless agenda of reforms on the education sector. Such an agenda is clearly forced by a human capital development agenda that follows the interest of growth in the economy. The idea of certainty of globalization has been employed to push the government to carry out reforms in the education sector. As many educators would argue, the main fear of the globalization of education lies more in cultural than economic terms.

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The dominance of the English language in many e-learning courses comes with cultural bias. While this is meant to facilitate communication between two cultures, the flow of culture appears to be one way. In Hong Kong’s education market, the UK is a leader in the import of education. This means there should be the dominance of the Anglo-Saxon-American culture. Undeniably, the American culture is dominant in cyberspace. Nonetheless, globalization of education also provides considerable avenues for heterogeneity of culture to exist together.

How can Hong Kong citizens weigh the benefits against the harm brought about by globalization of higher education, especially through the international delivery of programs such as e-learning? What should the local providers do to alleviate the possible damages that come from effectively consuming cultural imperialism embedded in such programs imported to the city? In my view, those concerned should make an adaptation following the original course. Alternatively, they can create a different edition of the original course by translating it into the local language. The education department can also try developing a culturally impartial or uni-dimensional course; a generic course for everyone might end up ruining the course.

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Nonetheless, e-learning suits a cross-culturally type of delivery more than the traditional distant learning programs, since there is a great emphasis made on student reflection and interaction. Students from various cultural backgrounds have the opportunity to appreciate and understand different cultures. A typical strategy to remedy the potential harm, brought about by cultural biasness, may incorporate the use of various adaptation techniques. Despite all these, a lot of care should be taken towards ensuring that a communal atmosphere is kept. Students should also be encouraged to use chat rooms, emails, forums to enhance the spirit of the community. There is no denying that Hong Kong is moving towards being a ‘globalizer’ and ‘globalizee’ in the education sector. It would be imperative for those involved in the education sector to carry out more debate about this issue.

Conclusion

Considering all the arguments presented above, is globalization a threat to education and culture? Is it feasible to keep the benefits and do away with the evils all at the same time? Hong Kong is absorbing the effects that come with cultural imperialism in a nonchalant way; a new culture is emerging. It is common to see students in classrooms mixing Chinese words with English. The local pop culture has also embraced this trend. The diversity in culture is celebrated and appreciated in Hong Kong as seen in entertainment, food, and the way of living. It is also crucial to note that the opposite is happening; Hong Kong’s culture is also penetrating into other Asian countries.

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