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Old world, new knowledge

Published on Friday, 27 Apr 2012
From capitals such as (from left) London, Paris and Berlin, to the rarefied Swiss Alps, Europe has a rich cultural and educational offering.
Photos: Agencies
Maria Castillo-Fernandez

As prestigious academic qualifications play an increasingly central role in career and life choices, the European Union’s (EU) wide range of leading centres of learning provide Hong Kong students with the opportunity to study at top-level universities and research establishments.

The 27-member EU is home to universities and educational institutions that offer ground-breaking academic programmes and produce highly successful graduates.

“European universities have a strong reputation for offering design, technology and science programmes,” says Maria Castillo-Fernandez, head of the Office of the European Union in Hong Kong and Macau. “They are also at the forefront of research, development and cutting environmental programmes,” she adds.

With investment in green initiatives such as energy efficiency and “clean-tech” innovation set to increase in Asia, Castillo says huge demand can be expected for specialist skills and knowledge in these areas. 

Castillo says that, as well as world-class academic programmes, studying in the EU provides students with chances to extend language skills, explore cultures, and start networks.

“There is plenty of evidence to suggest that  studying abroad not only enriches students’ lives in the academic and professional fields, it can also improve language learning, inter-cultural skills, self-reliance and self-awareness,” says Castillo.

Last year, about 13,000 Hong Kong students chose to study in the EU, she adds.

Castillo says concerns about different languages and diversity of education systems in Europe are no longer a hurdle to Hong Kong students, as a unified bachelor-master-PhD system has been introduced. The number of degrees taught in English has also significantly increased.

She says the diversity of countries makes for a vibrant experience. Furthermore, mobility within Europe with a visa issued by any country, and the fact that it offers many concessional benefits, are powerful incentives to pursue higher education there.

With the Hong Kong job market becoming increasingly competitive, Castillo says students who study in Europe usually hold a competitive edge over their peers who had studied elsewhere.

“Through studying at universities in the EU, graduates demonstrate to employers they are curious, adaptable and open to new ideas and challenges,” she says, adding that employers value knowledge of business, consumer and contemporary developments. 

Castillo notes that the EU is Hong Kong’s second-largest trading partner. She says the city is also home to one of the biggest European business communities in Asia, and that it continues to attract many Europeans to live and work.

“As [Hong Kong is] Asia’s East-meets-West hub, and the gateway to mainland China, it is important that we encourage scholarly exchange initiatives to enhance the quality of higher education and to promote dialogue and understanding between people and cultures through mobility and academic co-operation,” she adds.

Most EU university programmes are publicly funded and Castillo says the cost of studying at an EU university can be significantly lower than in other popular overseas education destinations. Another compelling reason for considering studying in the EU is the number and variety of scholarships on offer.

Since 2004, the EU has offered an Erasmus Mundus scholarship scheme for study at various EU universities. Programmes cover nearly all disciplines and last one to two years, leading to recognised double, joint or multiple degrees. Flights, travel, living costs and tuition are all covered.

To encourage more Hong Kong and Macau students to apply for Erasmus Mundus scholarships, the Office of the European Union in Hong Kong and Macau has set up a dedicated pool of funding and application process for students from both cities.

Last year, 13 Hong Kong students were accepted into the programme. “We would like to see more eligible Hong Kong students apply for the Erasmus Mundus scholarships, and their parents and academic advisers consider the many positive aspects of studying at universities in the EU,” says Castillo.

To help students to make informed decisions, her office has produced a comprehensive brochure detailing EU universities and their strengths. Scholarships details, contact points and information about EU universities can also be found on the office’s website. 

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