Although Hong Kong is probably as global as you can get in East Asia, surprisingly, there aren’t that many international students studying in Hong Kong. Occasionally, I get emails from prospect students who look for information about studying in Hong Kong and come across my blog, asking me what my impressions are about studying in Hong Kong and Hong Kong University of Science and Technology.
Following are some quick notes about things you might want to think about or consider about studying as an international student in Hong Kong. Please note that my perspective is limited to my studies as a post-grad PhD student at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology and only reflects my impressions and experience after a single semester.
All studies are conducted in English and English is almost always used for academic and administrative interactions, even when no international students or scholars are present. With that said, the language barrier becomes more noticeable in places like the cafeteria and I’ve already been in a seminar or two in other universities (like CHKU) that had a few sessions in Mandarin due to the visiting speaker’s request. Some general university events and lectures are held in Cantonese or Mandarin, but that is always explained in the notices about the event and is directed especially at the local or mainland audiences.
HKUST has one of the most impressive bureaucracies I’ve seen anywhere and from what I’ve heard this is generally the case for other HK universities as well. The administrative staff is always helpful, very efficient and has so far replied to all my queries and requests with unprecedented curtsey, speed and professionalism.
The Hong Kong Universities collaborate with each other on a number of areas. You can easily order and transfer books between the libraries of the Hong Kong universities, students are invited to events and conferences in other universities, every university has open courses for students from other universities with full credit transfer and there alot of academic collaborations between scholars and students of all universities. Although the universities compete with each other to some degree, I have yet to come across any politics or ego in how the universities work together and from where I’m sitting it’s looking like good synergy.
While getting a scholarship for an undergraduate degree might be a bit of a challenge, all MPhil and PhD post-graduate students are on a scholarship from the Hong Kong government. The stipend is essentially 13000HK$ (/13400HK$ after the exams) per month for 10 months of the year and the other two months are usually taken care of by the department (either the Dean’s office or a mentoring professor). The scholarship can not be supplemented by additional work of any kind, including academic research assistance. To give you a sense of costs, tuition fee is around 22,000HK$ per semester, the most expensive on-campus dorms are about 2800HK$/month, and an average meal in an on-campus cafeteria is 20-40HK$. All in all, for the single student the studentship should be enough to take care of most of your needs and a bit more. If you want to live off-campus and eat out or party every once in a while, you might wanna consider planning your finances. There is new scheme announced by the HK government to attract world class scholars and students, so if your grades and record are good enough you can apply for a 20,000HK$/month scholarship which comes with a 10,000HK$/semester research travel expense account. Ask the HK university you’re applying to about that, they’ll give you further details.
The faculty academic level that I’ve seen so far has exceeded my prior expectations. The department faculty is world class, the visiting professors I’ve had the last semester were terrific (1 from Harvard, 1 from Berkeley, and 1 from Lugano) and at most times there is an interesting interaction in class even though I sometimes find it slightly more quiet and polite than I’m used to. The structure of the PhD program consists of 2 years of courses (36 credits) followed by a comprehensive qualifying exam. The courses have been intense, and at the most busy period we had mandatory readings for class of over 25 academic articles and a few more casual assignments. Students are encouraged to work with faculty on research projects in their chosen topics of interest, either micro-OB, macro-OB or strategy, which I find essential and refreshing in contrast to prior academic experiences.
From the little I know about the undergrad degree from my friends at the university, competition is intense. The university has a "curve policy" to normalize grades to follow normal distribution and since the mainlanders who are accepted to the HK universities are said to be top of the best in the tens of millions of Chinese students looking for high quality education the result is – mainlanders are usually top of the class, followed by the locals and trailed by the international students, some of them struggling to pass. Although undergrads have an active society-club or hall life, they do spend long hours studying, far more than I’ve seen anywhere else I’ve studied before (Taiwan included). Interaction in class varies, and the university is attempting to encourage attendance and participation by means of a curious electronic device (called PRS – Personal Response System, find overview here) assigned to each student to vote on class discussions and "participation cards" that give you participation points or bonuses that affect your final score. After acting as a judge on a few competitions at the business school I can generally say that I was very impressed with the level of creativity, delivery and overall professionalism of the projects by the teams that has surpassed previous events I’ve sat on before.
Generally, the 3 groups of mainlanders, HKese and international students tend to socialize mainly within themselves and occasionally there are some interesting tensions between the groups. Though the groups do mingle and spend time together it doesn’t happen often as I thought it would. The general interest locals have had in me as a foreigner in other countries I’ve lived in has not replicated itself here in Hong Kong and I wonder about that sometimes. In my department, out of maybe 12-15 students there are 3 international students, myself included, all male BTW, and most of the students are mainlanders, and interestingly – mostly female. I wonder about that sometimes as well.
Got any other questions about HK universities, HKUST, or studying in Hong Kong as an international student? Let me know.