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Published: 00:34, April 01, 2022 | Updated: 09:58, April 01, 2022
Hong Kong must leverage its strong education credibility within GBA
By Quentin Parker
Published:00:34, April 01, 2022 Updated:09:58, April 01, 2022 By Quentin Parker

In Chinese culture, the humble bat represents health, long life, prosperity, love of virtue, and a tranquil, natural death. I believe these blessings encapsulate the hopes and aspirations of the people in the Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao Greater Bay Area as it continues to undergo the most remarkable urban transformation in history.

The statistics are beyond impressive: a conurbation of 11 major cities, including Hong Kong and Macao, with a combined population of 73 million — on a par with the UK, with a GDP that ranks 10th in the world, ahead of Spain and Australia. It offers an Aladdin’s cave of opportunities for fresh Hong Kong graduates and entrepreneurs.

The GBA is 56,000 square kilometers of policy outcome and professional and business opportunities writ large on the grandest canvas imaginable. The rise of one of the world’s most significant hubs for innovation, technology, science and progress is breathtaking in its speed and reach — nothing like it has been seen before. It could hoover up all our home talent and is the perfect synergy of political will and entrepreneurial drive that is transforming and improving the lives of millions of people. 

I believe we must protect and leverage Hong Kong’s educational and reputational excellence at all costs. The golden eggs are now found on our university campuses, ready to hatch

This transformation is ongoing with broad-based reform planned as we approach the third anniversary of the latest GBA strategy implementation. This is based on openness, increased market access for global business and entrepreneurial leadership in which the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region excels. There is a clear focus on emerging technologies (artificial intelligence, big data, biotech and genetics, renewables, automation and robotics), finance (including fintech and quantum computing), healthcare (including traditional Chinese medicine research — vital with an aging population), high-end manufacturing, and smart-city transport (electric vehicles and the internet of things). However, there is also a pleasing emphasis on culture and education.

It is arguable if the GBA would have emerged in its splendor and promise if it were not for the magnetic pull and reflective glamour of the adjacent “Pearl of the Orient”, aka “Asia’s World City” and the “goose that lays the golden egg” — Hong Kong: the Fragrant Harbor. So it is natural we might expect a leading role in the next phase of China’s economic and technological development. Shenzhen, another GBA pearl along with Guangzhou, is right on the HKSAR border. Until 1980, it was just a cluster of fishing villages and aquaculture centers with a population of around 300,000. Today, Shenzhen is a shining, still-green megacity of 17.5 million, easily surpassing Hong Kong. This GBA transformation, extraordinary for its bold planning, is the power of policy in action to revolutionize lives, grow industry, create opportunities and maximize human potential. But what relevance can Hong Kong retain? We should not be content to quietly playing second fiddle to this magnificent GBA orchestra whose works seem ever more impressive and at times faintly foreign. Do we have enough vibrancy and value, imagination and inventiveness, to influence and even lead the GBA going forward?

As a University of Hong Kong academic who has fallen in love with this dynamic city, notwithstanding the unfortunate political distractions, my answer is an emphatic “Yes”! While Hong Kong has had a tough couple of years by anyone’s standards, calm and stability have thankfully returned, though the current deadly fifth wave of COVID-19 outbreak (which will pass) still requires more coordinated efforts, assisted greatly by generous Chinese-mainland input. This terrible pandemic has brought significant challenges, causing short-term damage to trade, travel and talent retention and attraction. This is hopefully temporary and will reverse once the pandemic is over. Hong Kong’s undeniable strengths in international finance and trade as a regional and global transportation nexus will then kick in, returning us, we hope, to where we were.

To get an appropriate share of the GBA action, we must focus on the transformative power of education in general and STEM in particular in training and directing our Hong Kong talent, while providing the rigorous instructional platforms for converting dreams and ambitions into reality by degrees — university degrees. It is this strategic, real value that I believe underpins this amazing GBA development. Creating, recognizing and seizing opportunities will become the domain of Hong Kong-based, STEM focused, tech-savvy, agile operators connected to the pervasive data grid of the internet of things (IoT) in the emerging “Smart City GBA conurbation”.

There are 70-plus universities and colleges in the GBA with only 22 in the global top 1,000 and only three in the top 50 (according to the QS and Times Higher Education ranking schemes). These three are all in the HKSAR! Many more GBA universities are planned, as a well-educated, well-trained and professional workforce is essential to keep up with the GBA’s ambitious and transformative plans. All major HKSAR universities are busy establishing mainland campuses as part of a cross-border educational engagement to assist in this worthy endeavor. Shenzhen has eight universities of its own, as does the HKSAR, including my own HKU, which for the second consecutive year has been named the No 1 university for international reputation by the World Economic Forum, while the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, and the Chinese University of Hong Kong clinched third and ninth places respectively. This is a remarkable achievement for a city that remains a global beacon of educational excellence, punching way above its weight in this key sector. For comparison, the UK has a similar population to the GBA but has more than twice the universities (164) with 18 in the global top 100. America has 26 from about 5,300 universities while the Chinese mainland has six out of about 2,740 universities. This comparison speaks volumes for HKSAR’s pre-eminence as a concentrated, global, educational powerhouse that is highly international in outlook, connectivity and appeal.

I believe we must protect and leverage Hong Kong’s educational and reputational excellence at all costs. The golden eggs are now found on our university campuses, ready to hatch and grow our future prosperity and importance based on research, innovation and training. Hong Kong’s three pillars of excellence, in education, fintech, and global connectivity/trade, should help secure us a commanding position in the overall GBA ecosystem.

The author is a professor in the Faculty of Science at the University of Hong Kong and the director of its Laboratory for Space Research.

The views do not necessarily reflect those of China Daily.

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