General education, or liberal arts education, is now seen as a key to developing civically responsible and economically productive citizens. Hong Kong universities have recently commenced their new four-year programmes, which place great emphasis on general education, so it's a good time to reflect on how it may enhance the internationalisation of Hong Kong's workforce.
In my youth as an undergraduate in America, general education was mandatory. At that time, I didn't think these courses would be helpful for developing either my professional or personal competency. When I entered the real world of business after graduation, my first job was working in Hong Kong as a toy buyer. The basic knowledge in chemistry, physics, art appreciation, design, history and social psychology that I learned in general education courses came into use almost every day.
Later, when I set up DHL International Asia, I travelled throughout the region to build and develop this business. My knowledge of geography, religions and cultural traditions, and the diversity of ways people make a living and promote economic growth and prosperity contributed to my ability to find local leaders and employees who could help me develop DHL into a truly global company.
General education has encouraged me to think independently and to objectively evaluate my reasoning and intuitive first impressions. These are essential skills for entrepreneurs, managers and service leaders in today's globalised world; unlike in an industrial production line, they need to make on-the-spot decisions daily in often complex situations.
This is why I am passionate about sharing the benefits of general education with students in Hong Kong. After the 3-3-4 education reform was launched, I helped create and fund the Fulbright Hong Kong General Education Programme in 2008.
This programme was designed to promote and provide a platform for general education exchange between academics from the United States and their Hong Kong counterparts.
The programme also created a dialogue between Hong Kong universities to exchange ideas, resources and experiences on localising the general education curriculum while preserving individual university autonomy. I saw this as a timely and valuable investment that would help sharpen Hong Kong's competitive advantage.
Today, general education is increasingly a part of Asia's education curriculums. I know it will help universities in the region produce graduates who are critical and creative thinkers, problem solvers, gifted communicators, team managers and ethical leaders. Further, it will create communities of innovation.
These are qualities that today's graduates - and societies - need in order to thrive; they are also the skills and values for which employers are willing to pay the highest salaries.
General education places great emphasis on practice - that is, how students put the knowledge, skills and values acquired into action. In Hong Kong, the ripe seed of general education is being sown.
However, the investment in liberal arts studies will not yield its full benefits unless teachers and students are permitted to use appropriate general education practices that allow different opinions and values to coexist harmoniously in a safe learning environment - not only in the classroom, but in society and within the halls of government.
Po Chung is co-founder of DHL Asia Pacific and founder of the Hong Kong Institute of Service Leadership & Management