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Symposium on Outcome-based Approaches in Student Learning: "Quality Education, Quality Outcomes: The Way Forward for Hong Kong"

Jockey Club Auditorium, The Hong Kong Polytechnic University
18 June 2008 (Wednesday)

Welcome Message by Mr Michael V STONE, JP
Secretary-General, University Grants Committee

Professor Davies, Professor Hamdi, Distinguished Speakers, ladies and gentlemen,


It gives me great pleasure to welcome all of our distinguished participants from the higher education sector, both local and overseas, to this symposium, addressing the important subject of the outcome-based approach to student learning (OBA). I would also like to extend my gratitude to the Task Force on Outcome-based Approaches in Student Learning for their efforts in organising this event.

It really is great to see so many academics here today. This is what we would like to achieve: having those who are at the business end of educating our students engaged in this important issue.

You have a long but exciting programme ahead today, so I shall not take up too much of your time. Besides, what can an Administrator - and one from the civil service at that - tell you about outcomes?

Well, one thing I should say is that the UGC's focus on quality is not a new one. Quality has always been one of our key concerns. I am sure many of you here will lovingly recall the two rounds of Teaching and Learning Quality Process Reviews (TLQPRs) which the UGC conducted in the late 1990s and early 2000s. Those looked at, well, just that. In the second round, in addition to process, we began also to focus on outcomes. For some reason I do not understand, there was not universal cheering when we considered having a 3rd round of TLQPR. So, as always, we listened. I jest. The TLQPRs met their purpose well, but it was time to move on. The Performance and Role Related Funding Scheme held in 2004 highlighted the need to focus more on outcomes and helped to take that forward. And the formation of the Quality Assurance Council was the next logical step after the TLQPRs in the UGC's wish to help institutions focus on quality.

The OBA to student learning is also a natural progression. It is very clear that all of content, process and outcome are important. But outcome is the most important.

Some say that a good teacher has been defined as one who makes himself progressively useless. OBA, being a student-centred approach, focuses on the "outcomes" achieved by the students. This approach calls for the creation of a curriculum framework that sets out the specific outcomes students can demonstrate, and develops appropriate assessment tools to measure students' achievement. This is not an easy task for individual professors nor institutions. But I believe - I know - that all professors have a strong sense of what it is they wish students to achieve or gain from their courses. It is a matter of trying to articulate those and distill their key characteristics.

The UGC has been helping institutions build up OBA capacity by providing funding support. We have allocated $65 million to enable the institutions to release their staff to work on OBA, to obtain external assistance, and to conduct promotional activities, etc. In addition, we have been very fortunate to have the enthusiastic help and support of the Task Force, which is facilitating institutions to weave "outcomes" into the new "3+3+4" curricula, encourage teaching staff to adopt OBA, foster collaboration and sharing of information among institutions, and organising events on OBA - like today's.

One issue that I believe concerns both the UGC and academic is the question of possible linkage between outcomes and standards and league tables. We have made it very clear that the UGC does not wish to try and impose uniform standards on institutions. The QAC takes a "fit for purpose" approach to its work - and the UGC willingly supports that approach. We don't want to straightjacket you. But governments are famous - infamous? - for trying to measure things. Sometimes that is even a good idea. The Qualifications Framework seeks to do just that. Parents too like to try and compare offerings from different sources: that is competition and informed choice. And, it has to be said, all of you - and our institutions from an overall perspective - must have a pretty firm idea of what you believe to be an appropriate standard for your graduates to reach. This "conflict" between standards and allowing different approaches and outcomes is not an easy question - and is one that may be debated during today. Perhaps the solution is to ensure that there is informed debate, so that society can find the best way through.

Before I conclude, I would like to take this opportunity to answer a potential question: how will the UGC assess institutions' achievement in promoting OBA and what action might we take with laggards? Some of you may remember the US TV series Dallas? Well, like JR, the UGC will use "a little friendly persuasion" with institutions. Seriously, with the establishment of the QAC last year, some of you may have already felt the presence (and not threat) of the QAC's quality audit. The QAC sees the OBA initiative and institutions' quality assurance systems as mutually reinforcing. That said, the QAC - and the UGC - also recognises that institutions are at different stages in their development of OBA, and hence will not have specific expectations about the institution's progress in this area for this first round of Audits. But I would like to add that QAC itself is a fan of OBA. It examines whether the institution has procedures in place appropriate for its stated purposes, whether it applies resources to achieve those purposes, and whether there is verifiable evidence to show that the purposes are being achieved. This kind of "fitness for purpose" audit is clearly a demonstration of OBA.

I am sure today's symposium will be very stimulating. I shall defer to the five overseas speakers, in their order of appearance, Dr Peter Ewell, Dr Skip Fletcher, Dr Ricky W Griffin, Professor Ian Saunders and Dr Thomas A Angelo, to share with you their invaluable experience and ideas in taking forward OBA. Thanks a lot for coming long way to join us today. I would also like to thank Professor Edmond Ko for agreeing to be the moderator for today's Panel Discussion. Apart from the distinguished overseas speakers, we have a strong team of responding academics from our institutions to take part in the Panel Discussion, to whom I would like to extend my warm appreciation. Finally, I must thank again the Task Force, in particular, the Co-convenors, Professor Howard Davies and Professor Mounir Hamdi for their advice on and support for the organisation of this event.

Thank you.