72% of non-local higher education is delivered by UK providers and partnerships while 27,390 students are studying for a UK qualification, the research found. However, this figure drops to around 18,000 when distance learners are taken out of the figure, and only face-to-face learners are counted. This makes Hong Kong the fourth largest host country for UK TNE.
In 2016-17, there were about 250,000 HE students in Hong Kong.
Top-up degrees and good links between industry and UK higher education in Hong Kong are two factors why students are attracted to UK higher education, the report suggests.
QAA reviewed the academic quality and standards of 14 Hong Kong/UK partnerships.
“UK higher education is extremely popular in Hong Kong, and universities at home have been quick to meet the demand for top-up degrees as well as successfully exporting the more traditional full degree programs,” QAA’s international manager Fabrizio Trifiro said.
The UK higher education provision is an essential and embedded part of Hong Kong’s higher education landscape, he added.
A total of 39 UK institutions offer degree programs in the region.
“[The UK provision is] focused on the needs of the student population and local industry, and meeting rigorous UK criteria for academic standards and quality.”
QAA highlights the sharp rise in the median age of the population, from 29 to 44 years, over the last two decades which may have affected TNE student numbers with decreasing number of secondary school-leavers.
A 2017 report suggested that supply of international school places in Hong Kong was beginning to outstrip demand, particularly in the primary school sector.
“Courses that don’t stand out, either because of the reputation attached to their degrees or because of the [poor] employment prospects, are those that will be most affected by the decreasing student population and a more competitive environment,” Trifiro told The PIE News.
However, the agency remains optimistic.
Included in an extra $458m education quality investment the government has made, is a $3,800 government subsidy for students undertaking local and non-local undergraduate degrees.
“This investment in the quality of education at all levels includes rigorous checks on the quality of international higher education delivered in Hong Kong,” Trifiro said.
Trifiro said that QAA found a demand for growth in the provision of post-graduate, in particular doctoral education.
“There is a potential, and a clear opportunity, for UK providers to develop more TNE programs at doctoral level building on existing and established undergraduate and postgraduate offering,” he said.
Trifiro suggested Hong Kong remained a strategic market for UK providers, largely due to its proximity to its neighbour.
“Mainland China is by far the main sending country of international students to the UK, and could possibly become a source of recruitment for TNE in Hong Kong if immigration policies for mainland Chinese to Hong Kong are relaxed,” Trifiro said.
Students from mainland China are not permitted to come to Hong Kong to study on TNE programs.
Demand for distance learning is expected to keep climbing in the future, but Trifiro warned that providers must be aware of challenges for students having their qualifications recognised in their own country.
He identified a blended form of distance learning involving face-to-face delivery or local tuition as the current preference.
QAA cooperated closely with the Hong Kong Council for Accreditation of Academic and Vocational Qualifications on the report, marking the first time the two organisations have carried out a joint review. QAA will now recognise HKCAAVQ accreditation decisions, rather than review UK TNE.
“Co-operating with host countries’ quality assurance agencies is a key priority for QAA,” Trifiro explained.
Steve Corry, education services lead (East Asia) for the British Council said it foresees the UK maintaining its strong position.
“Hong Kong families are very familiar with the UK – this is echoed in student mobility data – and UK degrees are well regarded by Hong Kong employers,” he said.
Some institutions have found student recruitment more challenging because of the drop in number of secondary school leavers. The subsidies the government introduced in the 2017/18 academic year “has provided a boost to self-funded higher education providers who provide UK TNE program”, Corry said.
“The Hong Kong government views diversified and flexible pathways as being an important characteristic of higher education,” he added.
“Top-up degrees fill an important need for students graduating from sub-degree programs who still want to attain an undergraduate degree.”
There are around 20,000 sub-degree places in the self-financed sector, Corry said.
“Many of these students will progress to a top-up degree. In addition, many UK TNE programs attract students who are mid-career and wish to upgrade their qualifications for the purpose of career progression.”