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3+3+4 Symposium Enhancing and Assessing Students' Learning Outcomes for the New 4-year Curriculum

Hosted by the Hong Kong Polytechnic University

Speech by Michael V. Stone
Secretary-General, University Grants Committee

Outcome based approach to student learning

Professor (Timothy) Tong, Distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen,

Good morning. I am very pleased to speak at this Symposium hosted by the Hong Kong Polytechnic University (PolyU). I am glad and encouraged to see many colleagues joining the symposium today. This clearly demonstrates colleagues' enthusiasm and commitment to ensure successful transition to the new four-year undergraduate system and in seizing the "3+3+4" opportunity to enhance student learning.

2. This is the sixth symposium in a series over the past year held by institutions and sponsored by the UGC. The previous symposia dealt with more infrastructural issues such as admissions, interface with the school sector, and the broad contents of the curricula. The symposium today deals with an important aspect of the quality side of the four year programme. We are here today because we very much care about students' learning, which is a fundamental -indeed the most important - mission of any universities.

3. I do not wish to teach fish how to swim - I am sure you know better than I do about outcome-based approach (OBA) to student learning. And for a bureaucrat - and a civil servant at that - to be talking about outcome based approaches may seem like an oxymoron. But perhaps you would give me some time to preach the message - quality always has been close to the heart of the UGC and that is why we attach great importance to the OBA initiative.

4. One may ask, why should we introduce the concept of "outcomes" ? As Winston Churchill once said -
"However beautiful the strategy, you should occasionally look at the results"

Similarly, visible outcomes in student learning are important for three main reasons. First, it is difficult to tell how students have benefited from the education offered by the institutions unless we focus on the outcomes of student learning. Second, society, including parents, have a legitimate expectation on the quality of graduates - with OBA we can identify some appropriate assessment tools to measure students' achievement. And third, the need for more accountability. Institutions should be held accountable for the public money invested in cultivating students through them, and deliver the outcomes society expects. The promotion of OBA to student learning allows institutions to articulate what they intend their students to achieve. Hopefully, this will enable institutions to improve student accomplishment and inform the public about institutional performance.
5. Setting the desired outcomes, and accurately assessing the outcomes, is no easy task. It is certainly easier for some disciplines - say those leading to professional qualifications - and many are already doing so in order to be accredited or recognized by relevant professional bodies. For instance, in the fields of engineering and business management either the local professional body or the respected international ones require an outcome based curriculum and assessment method. In the field of medicine, the "problem-based" approach - in which students learn from solving real-life clinical or healthcare problems - is commonly adopted.

6. In the Arts and Humanities, the application of OBA is, however, less established - yet it is still applicable. In parallel to the identification of subject-specific learning outcomes, the key is perhaps the validation of such outcomes as there is often a range - instead of a definite set - of possible learning outcomes. This can possibly be achieved by consultation with stakeholders and constant review.
7. In any event, it takes much time, resources, effort - and above all a mindset change - to implement OBA. The UGC wishes to see the concept internalized, rather than merely "complied with". A clear vision, shared among institutions' leaders, faculty and students, is therefore necessary for mindset change to occur over time.

8. To this end, the UGC has been playing a facilitating role to help institutions build up OBA capacity. With funding support from the UGC, institutions are encouraged to promote OBA among teaching staff and students, foster collaboration and sharing of information among institutions, and organize promotional events, etc. These efforts are all contributing to our common goal in weaving "outcomes" into the new "3+3+4" curricula.

9. Looking at the number of speakers from local institutions in the parallel experience sharing sessions and the variety of disciplines and areas they come from, I am most encouraged. Clearly a great deal has already been done - and these sessions will help spread the successful - and not so successful - approaches more widely. We also have two very interesting speakers from overseas.

10. You have a long and full day ahead packed with presentations and discussions. Therefore, I will stop here and not delay you. But before I do so, I would just like, on behalf of the UGC, to express our sincere thanks to PolyU for organising this event. I wish you all a fruitful discussion - and today's symposium a great success. Thank you very much.