【明報專訊】RECENT YEARS have seen a downward trend in Hong Kong universities' positions in international higher education rankings. People in Hong Kong universities maintain that, as the phenomenon has to do with changes in evaluation methods, one should not attach much importance to it. However, if the organisations that compile those rankings have enough authority and credibility and if they have changed their methods in the light of actual situations, one should say the decline in Hong Kong universities' rankings evidences their failure to move with the times or the success of universities in other places in doing so. If we only want to "feel good" and pay no regard to the fact that others are pressing forward and we are falling back, we will lag further behind in the highly competitive international community. Our competitors always have the bit between their teeth. They will not "wait for Hong Kong".
The Times Higher Education (THE) World University Rankings were first compiled more than 30 years ago. Indisputably, they are an invaluable source of reference. The 2015/16 THE rankings list puts the University of Hong Kong (HKU), our city's top university, in the 44th place. The university is far behind the National University of Singapore (NUS), which occupies the 26th place, and has been overtaken by Peking University, which is ranked 42nd. And in mid-September, Quacquarelli Symonds, an international higher education and human resources research company, published its world university rankings. HKU continued to move lower down the list and fell far behind not only NUS but also Nanyang Technological University, another Singaporean university. The methodologies used in the two surveys are different, but we do not believe they are designed to denigrate HKU. In other words, unwilling as we are, we have to accept the fact that Hong Kong universities are losing their edge over their global competitors and appear to be stagnating.
The situation faced by Hong Kong universities, as reflected by these rankings, is attributable to a number of factors. For example, some experts believe Singaporean universities' enviable rankings have to do with the government's attitude. The Singaporean government has allocated a lot of resources to scientific research and development at universities, providing them with the means to enrol research students. These students do not teach. They only do research, homing in on the criteria of international rankings with a view to improving their rankings. Hong Kong does not have such a policy objective. Some years ago, there was a debate about research-based and teaching-based universities. But the majority of the eight universities were worried that, if resources were allocated to a few of them, the others would become second-rate. They voiced opposition, and little came of the debate.
From higher education to its competitiveness in different aspects, Hong Kong as a whole has been stagnating or even going backward in recent years. A gloomy atmosphere has pervaded the community. Some even seem weighed down with worry because they are witnessing Hong Kong's degeneration but can do nothing about it. But Hong Kong in fact enjoys unique advantages. At its back is the mainland, which has a booming economy, and it benefits from the "One Country, Two Systems" policy. Owing to political reasons, however, Hong Kong's economy has not boomed despite those advantages. The harsh reality is that it is falling behind in the rankings. This shows it must not waste any more time. It must renew its efforts, or it will fall so far behind other places that it can never catch up with them even if it wants to.