I was recently reading an op-ed from the biggest English language newspaper in Hong Kong, the South China Morning Post (SCMP). Written by educator Kelly Yang and entitled “Campus chase,” it made an argument as to why Hong Kong should put in more effort to court foreign universities, citing the examples of Yale setting up in Singapore and NYU opening in Shanghai.
Yang speaks specifically about Yale, which has partnered with the National University of Singapore (NUS) to grant liberal arts degrees. She writes, “Yale-NUS will be the first liberal arts institution in the city state and, as such, will emphasize the Yale tradition of inquiry-based learning and broad-based studies in an education system that has traditionally focused on exams and single disciplines.”
As a graduate of UC Berkeley and Harvard Law, Yang is most definitely biased towards the American education system. Universities in Hong Kong and in Asia in general are nothing to sneeze at – Hong Kong University, Beijing University, Tokyo University, and many other Asian schools are consistently at the top of university rankings along with more prestigious institutions like Oxford, Princeton, and Harvard. It could also be argued that standards are higher at these universities, since there is a much bigger population applying to get in. And even tougher is the Chinese standardized entrance exam, the National Higher Education Entrance Examination or gao kao, that all applicants must write – in 2007 10 million students wrote the exam and of that population, half are expected to fail. Incidentally, the new NYU Shanghai is considered by the government to be a Chinese university and therefore 60% of the student body must be Chinese admitted students who have passed the gao kao.
Not everyone in Asia is an exam taking machine – that is problem and misconception that many people have of Asian education systems. In Hong Kong there is the Hong Kong Arts School and the Academy for Performing Arts where students can obtain BFAs and MFAs. Recently American art school the Savannah College of Art and Design has opened there and is granting arts degrees. The study of art and dance in Asia does not need the American style “inquiry-based learning” as it is often very Eurocentric – there are plenty of art and performance studies that benefit from being based in Asia.
It is unfortunate that Yang believes Hong Kong needs foreign universities to attract prestige and ‘improve’ the post-secondary education system. To think that Hong Kong needs more foreign universities does injustice to the hard work and dedication of Hong Kong’s existing institutions. For example, Hong Kong University offers a unique Chinese Medicine research program that intends to document the scientific uses of the ancient tradition, while Chinese University of Hong Kong is known for their research in Chinese language, history, and literature.
While American universities are popping up all over Asia, we do not see Beijing University or Tokyo University setting up shop in New York or London. Why should the flow of information be one way? We should be encouraging a global multi-directional flow of education and knowledge.