The University of Science and Technology plans to build a campus in Guangzhou, making it the fourth Hong Kong higher learning institution to expand onto the Chinese mainland.
The new facility will be funded by Guangzhou education authorities and will offer information technology courses.
It is intended to serve the ambitions of the “Greater Bay Area”, a project to turn Hong Kong, Macau and nine nearby cities in Guangdong province into an innovation and technology hub to rival Silicon Valley.
The school will be built next to Qingsheng railway station, which is on a new high-speed line linking Hong Kong and Guangzhou. It will be run independently, the university’s president Wei Shyy pledged on Tuesday.
“We are at a tipping point, things will be very different five years from now ... There are so many fast-moving scientific and technological advancements, the university can no longer just be within our own campus, doing our own thing,” Shyy said.
The idea for the new project had come from mainland authorities, he added.
“We need to have more direct collaboration with the outside world, especially if we have new ideas ... We need to have a platform for further development.”
Shyy, a specialist in aerospace engineering, became the university’s fourth president in September.
He said the Guangzhou branch would be twice the size of the Hong Kong campus in Clear Water Bay.
Mainland and international students would be offered graduate degree programmes in artificial intelligence, robotics, biomedical technology, advanced manufacturing and financial technology, he said.
Prospective students will be able to apply from as early as 2020, and classes will begin in September 2021. About 1,000 admissions are forecast for the first year, with hopes to expand to as many as 6,000.
Shyy said the financing model would be similar to that for Hong Kong universities, which rely on funding from the government’s University Grants Committee. In this case the money will come from Guangzhou authorities.
Under Chinese laws the university must partner with a mainland institution to offer educational services north of the border. Guangzhou University will be the partner for this venture, Shyy said, but HKUST would decide on student admissions.
“HKUST is a government-funded university but it is protected from interference [from authorities], and the new campus on the mainland will come under a similar framework, and will enjoy the same amount of autonomy,” he said.
Asked if Communist Party secretaries would be appointed to the school’s governing body, Shyy only said the campus would be run within the constraints of mainland laws.
“We will do what we need to do to abide by the law, but that will not affect how the institution operates,” he said.
“If we couldn’t accomplish our mission, we wouldn’t do it,” Shyy added. “We are confident that our students will be better educated if we have the Guangzhou school. That’s the bottom line.”
A proposal will be presented to China’s Ministry of Education in March next year.
Meanwhile, locally, the school will inject HK$50 million (US$6.38 million) over the next three years into turning its Sai Kung campus into a “living laboratory” in an effort to spur creativity.
Staff and students will be encouraged to try out their innovations on campus before moving on to commercialisation.
“I want to push for sustainability-driven innovations, then apply them to our community,” Shyy said. “It starts within ourselves, by finding solutions to our problems.”