April 3, 2014 12:00 am JST

Combining the best of East and West

KENJI KAWASE, Nikkei deputy editor

HONG KONG -- The Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, founded in 1991, is rapidly gaining international recognition, leveraging an international outlook and focus on science and business.

     The young university conducts all classes in English and boasts a number of talented teachers and students in science and business. It has formed strategic partnerships with influential Western and Chinese universities, and is attracting attention from the business community. 

Tri-continental

Last September, 48 undergraduates selected from 1,200 applicants worldwide began a new four-year program at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles. The new World Bachelor in Business program was launched through a partnership with USC and Bocconi University in Milan.

     The students study in LA in their first year, Hong Kong in the second and Milan in the third. In their fourth year, they can choose one of the three. The students learn the business practices, cultures and customs of each place through direct experience. Eden Woon, vice president of institutional advancement at the Hong Kong university, noted, "Our international character and China connections will be extremely valuable to the students and other partners of this program."

     The WBB program highlights the university's advantages. The school is in a better position to attract students and teachers from around the world due to the use of English in all classes. In addition, as Hong Kong's only resarch-oriented science and tech university, it has also emphasized business-related studies.

     Tony Chan, president of HKUST, said, "Our closest model is MIT (with strength in) science, engineering, business, humanities and social sciences." The emphasis is on focus and positioning. "We are not the University of Tokyo or the University of Hong Kong. We don't try to be comprehensive," he said.

     The university's unique feature is that "we are international, but we are part of China," Chan said. It has a partnership with Xi'an Jiaotong University, a key university in inland China.

     The two universities are in the process of jointly establishing a college at Xi'an Jiaotong University to train students in sustainable development in energy, materials and infrastructure.

     The new college will be under the administration of Xi'an Jiaotong University, but "the intellectual ownership belongs to both," Chan said. Teaching staff will be interviewed in Hong Kong before being offered jobs, and key positions, including the dean and three department heads, will be filled by HKUST personnel. According to Chan, academic freedom was "the key point that we insisted on."

Rising numbers

Chan wants to establish strategic partnerships with 10 or so universities around the world. In addition to USC, Bocconi and Xi'an Jiaotong, the university has joined hands with the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Lausanne, Germany's Technical University of Munich and others. Chan hopes to raise his university's competitiveness and attractiveness through more partnerships.

     The result of these efforts is a quickly rising reputation. In the latest world rankings by British firm Quacquarelli Symonds, HKUST ranked 34th, just below the University of Tokyo at 32nd, and above Kyoto University and Seoul National University, both at 35. It placed 18th in the Global Employability University Ranking, based on a survey of 5,000 companies worldwide. This made it Asia's highest-ranked institution, after 10th-place University of Tokyo, and it was rated higher than the Indian Institute of Science, Tokyo Institute of Technology and Peking University. A business school it operates jointly with Northwestern University in the U.S. has kept the world's top spot for five straight years in the Financial Times Executive MBA Ranking.

     HKUST has become an influential school in only 20 years of existence. Nevertheless, Chan said, "We have a way to go, compared to some of the top institutions around the world, because of history, alumni and resources." He is aware of the growing number of science universities in Asia that offer lectures in English, and the scramble for the same pool of talented students and professors is intensifying. "Everybody," he said, "in every country, every economy, realizes that investment in science and tech is important for the economy." The solution is to "truly combine the best of East and West." HKUST hopes to win the competition by globalizing even further.

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