Higher Education Research in Greater Bay Area: Potentials and Challenges

Authors: Dr Jisun Jung, Assistant Professor, The University of Hong Kong
Miss Bonnie, Xiujuan Xie
Ms. Cathy, Qian Huang

Higher education in Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao Greater Bay Area (GBA) has gained significant attention from international, regional, and national communities, not only in terms of policy but also in scholarly aspects. The Greater Bay Area, often abbreviated as GBA, comprises the two Special Administrative Regions (SARs) of Hong Kong and Macao and nine municipalities (Guangzhou, Shenzhen, Zhuhai, Foshan, Huizhou, Dongguan, Zhongshan, Jiangmen, and Zhaoqing in Guangdong Province). Higher education in GBA covers over 200 universities and over half a million students (Te & Postiglione, 2022). Needless to say, it is a strategically vital area for fostering development and collaborations among regions and institutions. The Chinese government has developed several policy schemes, such as Outline Development Plan for the Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao Greater Bay Area and Plan for Promoting the Cooperation and Development of Higher Education in the Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao Greater Bay Area. Accordingly, Hong Kong universities have also established their branch campuses in Shenzhen. Research collaboration among individual academics is also encouraged through funding schemes like the joint training of PhD programs between universities in mainland China and Hong Kong. Due to the potential of this regional higher education, there have been more scholarly discussions about the issues, challenges, and considerations for sustainable development in this region.

My research team has developed several research topics for GBA higher education to respond to these policy agendas in empirical ways. First, we initiated the policy analysis by focusing on the leading higher-education system in the region, Hong Kong. Owing to Hong Kong’s unique geographic location and historic role in linking East and West, its higher education system is known for being highly international. Hong Kong’s higher education sector has expanded its internationalisation strategies, including consolidating its essential role in the GBA. Yet, few studies have focused on the internationalisation of Hong Kong’s universities and their role in the GBA. We aim to explore what opportunities and challenges Hong Kong universities are facing in the regionalisation process of the GBA based on multiple theoretical lenses.

Second, our regional focus has moved to Shenzhen. Shenzhen is not only a special economic zone but also a pilot demonstration area in the GBA. At the same time, there are growing concerns that Shenzhen’s higher education is out of step with the city’s economic development. While some domestic studies have increasingly focused on higher education issues within the region, such as the integration and cooperation with GBA policies, there is a lack of international discussion on how universities can collaborate with industry and other stakeholders to lead the region’s overall development. Therefore, we took Shenzhen in the GBA as an example to elaborate on the role of universities in regional development. To do that, we mainly applied the concept of glonacal, which Marginson and Rhoades (2002) conceived in the context of higher education. Glonacal (glo-na-cal), to some extent, means three aspects of global, national, and local significance referring to higher education operations. These three levels seem mutually beneficial, and in the process of simultaneous implementation, no scale is necessarily dominant.

Third, our policy analysis encouraged us to look into individuals’ perspectives in higher education, including those of students and academics. Therefore, we started looking into who the students are in the partnership with higher education institutions and what their expectations are. Listening to individual voices will help policymakers, and institutional leaders determine what the policy considerations should be in regional development. We plan to expand the research agendas to multiple cities in the GBA and incorporate different stakeholders’ views on higher education. To do that, various theoretical and analytical frameworks will be applied.

In conclusion, although developing higher education in the GBA faces challenges because of its peculiarities, such as different social identities and cultural contexts, it comes at a significant time, with great potential to construct the region. Throughout these studies, we hope to contribute theoretically and practically to further deepening the reform of the higher education system in the GBA.


Thanks to our research collaborators: Professor Gerard Postiglione and Dr Danling Li


Chen, G. (2018). Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao Bay area development report. Beijing: Chinese Renmin University Press. [in Chinese]

Knight, J. (2013). Towards African higher education regionalisation and harmonisation: Functional, organisational and political approaches. In A. Wiseman & C. Wolhuter (Eds.), The development of higher education in Africa: Prospects and challenges, International Perspectives on Education and Society Series (pp.11-28). UK: Emerald Publishing.

Marginson, S., & Rhoades, G. (2002). Beyond national states, markets, and higher education systems: A glonacal agency heuristic. Higher Education, 43(3), 281–309.
Te, A. Y. C., & Postiglione, G. A. (2022). Editorial. Asian Education and Development Studies, 11(1), 1–6.

Xie, A., Postiglione, G. A., & Huang, Q. (2021). The Greater Bay Area (GBA) development strategy and its relevance to higher education. ECNU Review of Education, 4(1), 210–221.

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