Why are Hong Kong schools declining?

Why are Hong Kong schools declining?

Hong Kong University has been in the news a lot lately. The controversial proposed curriculum addition where students would have to spend one semester on the mainland generated heated discussions within the student body. But before that was the report that HKU had fallen in Times Higher Education global rankings from 35th to 43rd.

When you take a closer look at why the rankings dropped, the statistics point to a lower score in the “Teaching” category, which encompasses staff-to-student ratio, as a proxy for teaching quality, and a reputation survey carried out by Thomson Reuters.

Rankings are important. They provide a measure of how well a university is doing in comparison to the rest of the world. This is all the more important in an age where top institutions across the globe compete to attract the brightest into their hallowed halls. Hong Kong universities have historically competed with UK, Australian and US universities, but in recent years, there is an increasing trend for secondary school graduates to continue their studies in another part of Asia, be it Singapore, Taiwan or mainland China.

Numerous prominent politicians have expressed concerns in the decline in ranking. But is this set of world rankings really all that indicative?

A drop of eight spots is worrying, but when considering the overall “Asian ascent and US decline” trend seen across all universities, HKU’s descent points to something more.

At the same time HKU went down, Korea's Sungkyunkwan University jumped from 200 to 148, mostly due to a string of prestigious state-funded research projects. Paralleling the Singaporean and Chinese experience, they acknowledged the importance of strong state support. Does this mean that the Hong Kong government should inject more funding into improving research quality?

Rankings are important as a reminder that institutions are accountable for every decision they make, but should not be the sole factor that politicians use when directing criticism. Just as schools in the top 10 are constantly changing and evolving, so should HKU’s ranking be considered as an overall trend, rather than from year to year.

This article appeared in the Young Post print edition as
HKU needs help

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