Research aims to optimise the study abroad experience

Picture by Dave Long, iStockphoto

Picture by Dave Long, iStockphoto

In summary: 
  • Academics from UTS and Hong Kong Baptist University (HKBU) are exploring synergies between their pioneering study abroad programs as part of research into academic mobility between Hong Kong and the European Union
  • HKBU's Associate Professor Beatrice Cabau is investigating study abroad outcomes for Hong Kong and European students to optimise their experience

There aren't many study abroad programs in the world that support students for a full year overseas. In Australia the pioneer was UTS's International Studies program and in Hong Kong it was the European Studies program at Hong Kong Baptist University (HKBU).

Now Associate Professor Beatrice Cabau from HKBU and UTS academics are exploring the synergies between the two programs – both now over 20 years old – as part of research by Cabau into academic mobility between Hong Kong and the European Union (EU).

Associate Professor Cabau, who recently visited UTS and delivered a public lecture on her research, said that in the shift from industry-based to knowledge-based economies, universities were expected to equip students to answer the needs of a more globalised world.

"To go abroad is not only to acquire new knowledge, but skills in communication, intercultural competences and teamwork," she said. "My objective is to optimise study abroad based on the project results, which will have lessons for UTS as well because of our common ground."

Head of School of UTS International Studies, Professor Lesley Harbon, said there were few programs based on the same model as UTS and HKBU's – namely language and culture preparation for a full year abroad.

"Both programs were pioneering in their region," Professor Harbon said. "International Studies was visionary in Australia and still has many unique aspects.

Associate Professor Beatrice Cabau (right) with Professor Lesley Harbon. Picture by Terry Clinton Associate Professor Beatrice Cabau (right) with Professor Lesley Harbon. Picture by Terry Clinton

"The difference is that UTS International Studies is a combined degree that can done in combination with 29 other UTS undergraduate degrees, while HKBU European Studies is a single degree with two majors."

Associate Professor Cabau said both universities had been at the forefront in recognising the importance of internationalisation, and not just in regard to student experience.

"In Hong Kong, as in other parts of the world, internationalisation is nowadays a constitutional element in higher education," she said. "It has become an agent of globalisation and is seen as an indispensable condition for the prosperity and global competitive performance of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region.

"Student mobility is commonly envisaged as the most important factor in the process of internationalisation of higher education. And yet, little is known about the actual outcomes of study abroad for Hong Kong students and for international students in Hong Kong.

"The major attraction for students is the year abroad, but there is a heavy personal investment in learning the language, adapting to a different education system and developing the ability to build relationships with students from other cultures.

"The academics overseeing programs like those at HKBU and UTS want to see the benefits of overseas experience optimised – ensuring that when students are back home they appreciate the value to employers of the intercultural competencies they have acquired."

Associate Professor Cabau's study will analyse push and pull factors of academic exchange between the EU and Hong Kong to identify possible solutions to enhance academic mobility.

She will investigate the outcomes and impact of study abroad for Hong Kong and European students at the student, institutional, regional and international levels.