Setting up an outpost in mainland China has become increasingly common for the world’s higher education leaders. From New York University to Stanford, Western institutions are eager to establish a foothold in a country with one of the fastest growing economies. Now just next door in Hong Kong, where the higher education sector has often looked to the West for inspiration, universities are expanding their mainland presence. They are concentrating on Shenzhen, the Pearl River Delta metropolis a short train ride from Hong Kong. One Hong Kong university is finalizing plans to build a campus in Shenzhen, and others are stepping up their research efforts there.
Not only does Shenzhen offer universities from Hong Kong, where land is at a premium, space to expand, but it also provides them with a chance to get closer to some of the industries driving China’s economic growth and tap into the mainland’s pool of research funding and seemingly insatiable demand for higher education. “It seems natural for universities in Hong Kong to get in there and play a role in upgrading talent, especially in science and technology,” said Gerard Postiglione, director of the Wah Ching Center of Research on Education in China at the University of Hong Kong. While mainland institutions still fall under the control of the Chinese government, analysts say the “one country, two systems” arrangement, which has allowed Hong Kong to continue to function under its own laws since sovereignty was returned to China in 1997, should help ensure that Hong Kong researchers who work on the mainland enjoy the same type of academic freedom so highly valued on their home campuses. The authorities in Shenzhen, where demand for highly skilled labor is surging, have encouraged Hong Kong institutions to set up shop, first by inviting them to open research offices in buildings in designated zones and then, in some cases, granting them land to establish their own facilities.
Chinese University of Hong Kong, which began establishing research institutes with mainland partners in 2006 and opened its own research institute the following year, is trying to finalize its most ambitious project on the mainland to date — the establishment of a Shenzhen campus designed for 11,000 students. “It is our belief that the Shenzhen campus initiative will help Hong Kong diversify her economy and increase her competitiveness, as well as contribute to the important process of educational reform of China,” Professor Xu Yangsheng, vice president of Chinese University, said in an e-mail. “It will also help realize our vision to be a first-class comprehensive research university acknowledged locally, nationally and internationally. Moreover, it will serve to create more student internship and job opportunities and help the university forge closer ties with industry.”
The university does not yet have a date when it hopes to begin construction, but it has already signed agreements with the Shenzhen municipal government, which has agreed to set aside a piece of land for the university to use without charge, and Shenzhen University, which would be a joint partner. The campus would be financed primarily through tuition and a subsidy from the Shenzhen government. Mr. Xu of Chinese University said it was also expected that the campus would attract “considerable national research funding.”