I am completing my master's by thesis this year at a small university in the West. I would really like to pursue my PhD (Maths/Stats) in Hong Kong, but I've been told by my supervisor and others that a PhD from a non-Western country is looked down upon by employers. Especially in my desired industry (finance).

This doesn't really make sense to me because Hong Kong is obviously a very developed city, the language of instruction is English, and it's a big financial center. The universities I'd want to enter (University of Hong kong and Hong Kong University of Science and Technology) are also ranked in top 100.

Is my supervisor wrong here, or is this something I should seriously be considering?

I am particularly concerned about Hong Kong or Singapore employers, but also of ones based in Europe and Australasia.

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    Hong Kong is 'western' enough. Those two universities you mentioned are very reputable, and have excellent standing! Perhaps your advisers are not referring to HK but .....? – Prof. Santa Claus May 28 '17 at 20:41
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    @Prof.SantaClaus These universities are very reputable in academia, but I would indeed not bet my career on this is also being true in the finance world ... – xLeitix May 28 '17 at 20:45
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    I can certainly see that as a valid point @xLeitix, but for me personally I'd like to work in Hong Kong or Singapore (not 100% sure I will though). Presumably getting a PhD in one of these cities would be preferable to that end, though my supervisor didn't think so. As far as connection building, immigration, etc it seems to be a good choice for me? – Patrick May 28 '17 at 20:56
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    Opinions of potential non-academic employers are arguably off-topic here. This might be a better question for workplace.SE. – JeffE May 28 '17 at 21:33
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    In Business-related disciplines, it's widely recognized that familiarity with the relevant culture's important. Having done a Ph.D. in Asia would be a major liability for getting a job in the West, but since you're specifically interested in getting a job in Asia, it could be a different story. You might want to ask people who have experience at the types of firms that you'd like to find employment at for their opinion. – Nat May 29 '17 at 1:31

All degrees have value somewhere. What you need to think about is where you want to work when you complete your studies. Obviously if your goal is to work in Asia or particularly in Hong Kong there should be no problems with a Hong Kong degree.

Another concern to consider is whether you will work in academia or industry. Sometimes academia needs to hire people whose degrees are recognized by the local government. Sometimes for political reasons one country will not recognize another country's degrees unless it's transcedenly elite. This forces the university to look else where for talent.

In industry, they usually do not need to hire people with degrees from government recognized countries


This is not a complete answer, but I'm a western college professor, and lack of free speech is one thing that creates a negative impression in my mind when I think about colleges and universities in Asia and the Middle East. Of course the region is not monolithic politically, and its universities are not all alike, but below are some examples of the kinds of things that make me concerned.


Author Alan Shadrake was sentenced to a jail term for publishing a book criticizing the death penalty in Singapore. He served 5 1/2 weeks and was deported. He had been at risk of a jail term of up to two years.

Physics lecturer and minister of parliament Chia Thye Poh was imprisoned for 23 years without trial, part of it in solitary confinement. Although he was never charged with any crime, presumably his imprisonment was related to his membership in a socialist political party. After his release, he lived under heavy restrictions for 9 years. He has been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize.

Hong Kong

Professor Edward Vickers describes heavy political interference at the University of Hong Kong. CY Leung has also interfered heavily in more recent years, attacking the student-union magazine, suppressing a book called Hong Kong Nationalism, and trying to torpedo democracy activist Johannes Chan's election to a university leadership post.

Of course the US has its own issues with respect to free speech on campus, but I don't think we have problems of the same magnitude as the ones described above. Freedom of speech is a prerequisite for academic inquiry.

I find it especially creepy and threatening when the government of China carries out vicious attacks on Chinese students studying here in the US. The recent case of Yang Shuping is a good example. Her only crime was to praise free speech and environmental laws in the US, and the result was a very nasty public humiliation for her, which smelled like something from the era of the Cultural Revolution.

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    This is really off the mark. The question is whether a western degree has a better return on investment. I know for a fact that in some countries, their PhD is not up to scratch due to poor culture and practices. Hence, any 'PhD' from said country is worthless. – Prof. Santa Claus May 28 '17 at 22:01
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    This answer doesn't seem to answer the question of whether the education gained is reputable. – Mike Miller May 28 '17 at 22:06
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    @MikeMiller: This answer doesn't seem to answer the question of whether the education gained is reputable. I'm baffled by this comment. How can an education be reputable when faculty are pulled out of the classroom and thrown in prison for 23 years without a trial or criminal charges? How can an education be reputable when students' access to books and publications is censored? Does your idea of a reputable university not include freedom of inquiry? – Ben Crowell May 28 '17 at 22:32
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    I think that very much depends on the field in question. I see no reason why a country that does not support freedom of speech cannot produce excellent graduate students in engineering, the sciences, or math. In fact, that is the case for China where a lot of good education happens in these fields. I cannot speak for the social sciences in China, and YMMV if that's what you're concerned about. – Wolfgang Bangerth May 29 '17 at 3:19
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    @BenCrowell the former Soviet Union produced many world class mathematicians at the same time as being an authoritarian dictatorship that very much repressed "freedom of inquiry" and despite causing great hardship to lots of academics (Jewish mathematicians in particular) that was orders of magnitude worse than what you are describing in your answer. Nonetheless a math PhD from the best Soviet universities was still considered very respectable, and rightly so. So I'm afraid your argument doesn't hold water, and I'm downvoting your answer. – Dan Romik May 29 '17 at 8:05

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