Campus morale low, academics warn

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 10 June, 2006, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 10 June, 2006, 12:00am

Newly set-up think-tank says there is a need to review universities' strategies to avoid parochialism

Morale on university campuses in Hong Kong is low and the public is dissatisfied with the quality of graduates, an academic told a newly set-up think-tank this week.

Wong Yui-shan, vice-president of Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, told more than 50 academics that there was a need to review key strategic issues facing universities.

The forum, held at City University on Thursday, was led by Professor Wong, Lee Chak-fan, pro-vice chancellor of University of Hong Kong, and Cheng Kai-ming, HKU's chair professor of education and Education Commission member. Opening the meeting, Professor Wong said that despite rapid growth of the sector over the last decade, morale on campuses was low. The public was less than satisfied with the quality of graduates.

Key issues, such as how universities should position themselves nationally and internationally and their role, should be considered.

The academics were joined by MTR Corporation chairman and former executive councillor Raymond Chien Kuo-fung and Education Commission chairwoman Rosanna Wong Yick-ming.

Mr Chien warned against focusing on 'cookie cutter' MBAs and finance degrees, saying there were major political and financial players who had humanities degrees. He cited US treasury secretary Henry 'Hank' Paulson and Steve Wynn, the man who had played a key role in transforming Las Vegas, both of whom had majored in English literature.

'What you study may not be that important,' he said. 'There are too many boys in the business community saying, 'hey, do something practical'. But if they want to study philosophy, let them.

'Intellectual curiosity, the ability to maintain a thirst for knowledge and to look at things critically are the skills we must impart to youth in order to compete on the global economic stage,' he said, after warning that growing parochialism in Hong Kong education could lead to it being marginalised.

'Parochialism is closely related to the homogenisation of education at primary level, at secondary level,' he said. Universities had to decide whether to counter this trend or allow themselves to be dragged down by it.

Professor Enoch Young Chien-ming, director of HKU Space, said the sector had been reshaped with the growth of associate degrees. The government should relax its control on universities, so they could offer more self-funded places for these and other degrees. 'Government policy is to make Hong Kong an education hub. But for that to happen we need good research, good academics, good students and a higher proportion of international students,' he said.

'That would extend the influence of Hong Kong as a whole, and benefit its students and, in the long term, its economy.'

Professor Cheng raised a series of questions, ranging from how students should learn to the purpose of research. He warned universities could become 'sad places' with academics leaving for greater challenges elsewhere. 'My university is facing a lot of poaching,' he said. 'If people leave it is because they want scholarship.

'Many of us were around the world in very prominent institutions. Where are we now? Where is our scholarship and who decides what scholarship is? When and how will Hong Kong be a hub for scholarship?'

Hong Kong had a stronger hub of institutions than its mainland competitors. 'But are we taking ourselves as part of the national map of higher education? If not, we are just a small island,' he said.

He said after the meeting that a group of academics had come together in a 'salon' in response to the lack of a forum to discuss key issues. He was surprised how many had responded when they sent invitations for the wider debate.