Riding on strong fundamentals, I would urge the whole sector to embrace upcoming challenges and keep up with good spirits and strong momentum of bringing positive changes to the system.
I am pleased to present the 2011-2012 Annual Report of the University Grants Committee (UGC) during a critical phase for higher education in Hong Kong. As we embrace a new "3+3+4" academic structure while stepping up on the initiatives of internationalisation and engagement with the Mainland China, the role of the UGC has become even more challenging. However, challenges would bring about opportunities and I can see many in front of us waiting to be grasped. In this process, the UGC will stand firm in maintaining our role as the bridge between the Government and institutions, and to safeguard academic freedom and institutional autonomy in the context of appropriate financial and public accountability.
Globalisation has launched a new age of socio-economic integration across the world. We are all interlinked like never before and the stakes in maintaining Hong Kong's position as a premier world city and a regional education hub have never been higher. In view of fierce competition from other parts of the world, Hong Kong cannot be complacent if we are to reap the full benefits from this world trend. At the same time, we would also need to ensure that our education could enable our younger generation to possess the skills and mindset to compete effectively and excel in the globalised world that they live in.
The "3+3+4" Academic Structure
In 2012 we will witness the implementation of the new 4-year academic structure in the higher education sector, which will provide an extra precious year of education for our undergraduates. Recognizing that this would be an unprecedented opportunity to better prepare our students for future challenges and opportunities, the UGC and all institutions have been very vigilant in making preparations for the arrival of this reform. The new curriculum will be enriched with more components of general education, training in language skills, multi-disciplinary learning, overseas exposure and even some research experience. Through an integrated programme that provides a broader knowledge base to support specialized learning, we are hopeful that students can receive better education and become more knowledgeable, self-assured and responsible citizens who are globally ready.
I am confident that the new curriculum will help broaden students' horizons and deepen their understanding of different cultures and backgrounds, in particular that of our nation. Given a more diversified academic environment, cross-cultural learning and living opportunities and the exposure to different disciplines in their curriculum, students would be able to acquire new skills, mindset and experiences.
Such a significant and fundamental reform presents a great number of challenges, and inevitably some immediate but relatively short term issues will arise at the transitional stage. With a transparent system in place as well as open channels for communications, it is hopeful that institutions could make quick responses to all possible incidents and the sector as a whole would be able to get over with immediate challenges very shortly after the commencement of the new academic year. Apart from resolving such issues expeditiously, it is hoped that our sector will not lose sight of the greater and longer term opportunities that the new academic structure will bring.
Teaching and Learning
One of the keys to a successful transition into the new academic structure lies in the hard work and dedication of faculty members of institutions. I am aware that there are some who have commented that research performance has overshadowed teaching excellence in the assessment of academic staff. Such feelings are unfortunate and should be countered as teaching and learning are indeed the core mission of all institutions. The UGC is determined to support institutions to sharpen our efforts on teaching and learning so as to better prepare our students for gloabalisation and also to maximize the opportunities as provided for in the new academic system. An increased emphasis on research should not be translated into lowering teaching into a secondary mission. Likewise, heightening of the awareness of teaching and learning is not meant to be at the expense of research. The accomplishments in research of our institutions in the past years should be highly commended and recognized. After all, higher education institutions are both the creators and disseminators of knowledge. We would very much hope to gain more support for research among the public and then through new teaching approaches, provide more exposure to research opportunities for undergraduate students as well as dissemination of research output in the classroom.
The UGC has always attached great importance to quality teaching and learning – about 75% of the existing recurrent grant to institutions is intended to support that function. On top of that, the UGC will allocate grants for specific purposes in the 2012-15 triennium to enhance teaching and learning. The UGC will look further and explore new schemes that will enable us to raise the awareness about teaching and learning and to cultivate the commitment to excellence in teaching and learning among teaching and research staff.
Institutions should be able to assess and reward good teaching and also to encourage teaching excellence. The UGC will also continue to organize the UGC Teaching Awards to recognize teaching excellence in the sector, and to identify enthusiastic academics who are ready to contribute to the entire higher education sector. I am confident that leaders of our institutions will share our vision that enabling teaching staff of all ranks to feel that they are all valued members of the institutions would bring about the best outcome.
Arrival of the new academic structure is more about opportunities than it is about change. For most students, their four years of education in higher education institutions would represent the last chance to be formally educated before entering the competitive job market. It is our responsibility as educators and policy-makers to ensure that an extra year of education would bring to students greater opportunities to learn and be inspired.
Internationalisation and Engagement with the
The concept of "internationalisation" as advocated in the Aspirations for the Higher Education System in Hong Kong report (the HER Report) is much more than the development of Hong Kong into an education hub. The HER Report states that internationalisation should become one of the central themes of all UGC-funded institutions and should permeate the whole gamut of institutional activities. The report emphasises the need to have a clearly formulated and long-term commitment by the Government and institutions, which will be most effectively achieved in a framework in which both are aware of, and have agreed upon, the common objectives.
As a small and externally-oriented economy, Hong Kong has always been an active participant in embracing globalisation, free trade and the sharing of knowledge. Continued success in this area for our future generations would greatly depend on what we provide for students in higher education. Exposure of students to international environments, teaching methodologies and cultures is crucial in preparing them to work effectively in virtually any parts of the world.
It is therefore vital for our funded institutions to provide a multi-national and diversified environment for students from different cultural backgrounds to interact and to learn from each other. Such interaction may also take place outside school campuses. Local students must be afforded as many opportunities as possible to learn first-hand about the world outside of Hong Kong through overseas studies or work placements. Feeling of uneasiness often stems from a lack of familiarity. Given sufficient opportunities, our students should be able to overcome inhibitions and to develop the intellectual and cultural capacity to thrive internationally.
One of the burgeoning world powers is right on our doorstep and understanding the Mainland is every bit as important as exposure to the rest of the world. We are fortunate to be part of China and indeed we are in a prime position to capitalise on our cultural and economic ties to Asia's largest economy. There would be great opportunities for students who are inquisitive and have the urge and the courage to deepen their knowledge about the social and economic developments in the Mainland. A bright future lies ahead for students who are effective communicators and are conversant in English and Chinese, including Putonghua and Cantonese.
Hong Kong's higher education sector as a whole is very competitive, as evidenced in Times Higher Education's ranking of 2011 that placed Hong Kong as the best in the world in university performance relative to gross domestic product (GDP), after normalizing the rankings for country size and wealth. Riding on strong fundamentals, I would urge the whole sector to embrace upcoming challenges and keep up with good spirits and strong momentum of bringing positive changes to the system.
Serving as the "buffer" between the Government and institutions, the UGC has the privilege to play the role of a facilitator to work closely with all stakeholders involved. In this exciting phase of the education reform, the UGC looks forward to closer co-operation with institutions and we stand ready to listen to all their views and needs so that, in turn, we can offer well-informed advice to the government on higher education policies. The UGC and institutions have built a strong rapport and I am confident that the partnership would continue to grow and hold strong.
The UGC is very fortunate to be served by all the distinguished and knowledgeable overseas and local members and I would like to take this opportunity to thank them the most. It has been my privilege to be able to work with and learn from each and every one of them.
Here, I would like to pay tribute to my predecessor Mrs Laura Cha for her exemplary contributions to the work of the UGC. Her leadership and vision have indeed provided a very strong foundation for me and other UGC members to work on.
Edward CHENG Wai-sun, SBS, JP