University hires must give value for money

PUBLISHED : Friday, 22 October, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 22 October, 2010, 12:00am

As Hong Kong aspires to become 'Asia's World City', the quality of our universities and their faculties and students should be a key element in that. So the willingness of those institutions to pay as much as HK$200,000 a month to lure the world's top professors, on the face of it, should be welcomed. No doubt the security that is offered with such a high salary would prove an attractive proposition to the world's leading academics. If they were to take up such offers, Hong Kong as a whole should benefit from their input into intellectual life both on and off the university campus.

However, before such attractive contracts are offered to academics - whether home-grown or from overseas - universities need to make sure that the institution, its students and Hong Kong in general are getting value for money. Having world-class academics on the payroll means very little if they are not required to take part in university affairs, student development, or leading research. Indeed, Hong Kong already pays some university professors generously due to the old system of linking their pay with the civil service, and yet businesses have often complained about the quality of students graduating from those same institutions with highly paid professors. Similarly, businesses have complained about the lack of a global outlook among some of Hong Kong's graduates, despite them coming from universities which proudly advertise their international mix of students. The creation of a vibrantly intellectual campus atmosphere requires more than simply paying professors more.

HK$200,000 a month is a very substantial amount. For that much money, we hope that students will leave university saying they were genuinely touched and inspired by certain professors to pursue pioneering research on their own initiative, maintain an interest in that topic for the rest of their lives, or simply develop a love for lifelong learning. But if these offers are dealt out willy-nilly, students and the public will question whether these new professors were merely acquired for the benefit of improving that university's prestige and ranking.