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Can Hong Kong make a difference in China’s higher education reform?

In mid-October 2012, we saw China’s second attempt to replicate the ‘Hong Kong model’ of higher education governance with the establishment of The Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK, Shenzhen). This new university, to be sited across the border of Hong Kong (Special Administrative Region) in the city of Shenzhen (a Special Economic Zone in China) promises to “uphold academic freedom, foster an open academic environment” and to be “managed along modern and democratic principles.” It will be an “independent legal entity” to be jointly operated by the Hong Kong-based CUHK and Shenzhen University with a mix of public and private funding sourced from the Shenzhen Municipal Government, tuition fees and donations.

Earlier on in 2010-11, an ambitious attempt to replicate the ‘world-class’ model of Hong Kong University of Science and Technology (HKUST) for the establishment of a ‘bureaucrat-free’ South University of Science and Technology (SUST) (see ACA Newsletter - Education Europe, February 2011) was proven to be too radical a change on the soil of the China mainland. The appointment of senior government officials into the university’s governing body has not only disappointed the HKUST advisors, but also many more onlookers who have been waiting to see a model ‘autonomous university’ in China that is free of state and party control.

Can CUHK (Shenzhen) make a difference this time? The future is difficult to predict. What is becoming clear is the increasing need for Shenzhen to find another niche to sustain its economic growth since the factories in the region are migrating to second-tier cities in north-western China.  The city has decided for the research and development area (R&D) and has heavily invested in related infrastructure, but it still remains hesitant to let go state control over the creative minds.

The Chinese University of Hong Kong