The joys of studying abroad

When it comes to studying abroad, there's plenty to get excited about. We get into a few of the details.

One of the greatest things about going to university is that you get the chance to meet people whose paths you might never otherwise have crossed: kindred spirits from all over the world who will change and shape the way you think about life, the universe and everything.

This can be especially true when you find yourself studying, socializing and even living with students who have come from different countries and cultures. When I was at university, the courage of these students used to amaze me, particularly those who came from far away, and for whom English was a second language. I could not imagine leaving everything familiar behind and committing to such a new and different experience. Despite this, the presence of international students at a UK university didn’t surprise me: it seemed natural to me that students would want to study here, the centre of my universe.

What’s more, a good deal of research suggests that the global centre of education is shifting. I found myself wondering whether it might soon be as usual to be a British student in, say, China as it is now to be a Chinese student in the UK. What draws international students to the UK? And what draws British students elsewhere? And why might that elsewhere increasingly be in Asia?

Why the UK?

The attractions of the UK as a place to gain a university education are manifold. Here are a few examples:

  • We have some of the best universities in the world. THE’s 2016-2017 list of the best universities in the world was led by a UK university, Oxford, for the first time in the 12-year history of the table. With the addition of Cambridge and Imperial College London, three schools make the top ten and five are in the top twenty-five.
  • The UK undertakes 5% of the world’s scientific research and produces 14% of the world’s most frequently cited papers.
  • 17% of all students and over 25% of academics and professors in the UK come from other countries, making our higher education system one of the world’s most diverse.
  • English is the primary language of business, research and technology, and the most widely learned second language in the world. Approximately 1500 million people speak English worldwide of whom only 375 million are native speakers.

Among the motives for coming to the UK expressed in the Guardian’s Meet the global student series were the international environment, the friendly dynamic between students and teachers, the range of non-academic societies, the prospect of getting a better job and the wish to study in the land of Adam Smith!

In conclusion, whether your place of pilgrimage is Anne Hathaway’s cottage, centre court at Wimbledon, a highlands distillery, Snowdonia National Park or tea at Claridge’s, the UK has a lot to offer… but so do other places. If the future of higher education is international, it is worth considering why a British student might emulate their global counterparts and look further afield when working on university applications.

Why Hong Kong?

Hong Kong is one of the most dynamic cities on earth: historically and politically, Hong Kong occupies a unique position as a place where west meets east and old meets new. It’s a city of skyscrapers, street markets, Daoist temples and shopping centres, and a group of stunningly beautiful islands, hospitable to everyone from beach lovers or rock climbers. It is a global centre of business and culture, a gateway to experiencing mainland China and the Pacific. And I haven’t even mentioned the food yet.

Moreover, in 2014, the Economist rated Hong Kong as one of the five most important education hubs in the world. It is not hard to see why:

  • In the QS World University Rankings 2016-2017, Hong Kong had four schools in the top 55: The University of Hong Kong, The Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, the Chinese University of Hong Kong and City University of Hong Kong at 55. The first three of these also appear in the top 100 in THE’s latest global rankings.
  • Four of Hong Kong’s universities were judged among the top ten in Asia, in the QS 2015-2016 rankings and in 2015 the Financial Times listed Hong Kong as one of the top places in the world to study business management and business administration.
  • The government actively promotes policy designed to transform the city into a global education hub, pouring huge amounts of funding into its higher education programs. The government offers scholarships specifically targeted at international students and, much like in Australia, they are encouraged to pursue employment locally after graduation.
  • The majority of courses are taught in English so there is no need for students to learn Cantonese or Mandarin before applying to study in Hong Kong. However, there are plenty of opportunities to learn either language once there, a huge asset to a student seeking employment after finishing school.

Combined with the thrilling location and proximity to the rest of Asia, Hong Kong has to be one of the most exciting education destinations in the world.

The future

As things stand, students from Asia are among the most intrepid in the world, and their presence benefits British universities in countless ways. In contrast, British students are among the least mobile in the world. Yet they have the potential to benefit foreign schools, just as international students benefit ours.

And perhaps change is already on the way. Perhaps this is set to change. With governments in Asia bolstering funding and research opportunities at their own schools, it seems that the pull to study abroad might increasingly be multidirectional. Who knows? Maybe one of your students might one day be guiding some local classmates through the streets of Hong Kong, taking them to the obscure hole-in-the-wall where they can enjoy the most authentic steak and kidney pudding in the city.

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