For Hong Kong Polytechnic University vice-president Suleyman Demokan, the new senior secondary structure, which will be introduced to universities in 2012, presents a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for the technical university to offer an all-round education. 'We'd like to give students more choices in order to broaden their horizons,' said Professor Demokan, a Turkish engineer who came to Hong Kong 19 years ago and is now PolyU's vice-president for academic development. Alongside the launching of double degrees, students would be required to do more courses in general education on a compulsory basis and, in all, four years of university education. 'Every student of the business faculty or the life sciences faculty should be able to take subjects outside their study disciplines. A physics student must take some politics and cultural subjects,' Professor Demokan said. '[Rather than] one-dimensional professionals, we would like to produce intellectuals who are good electrical engineers and good designers as well as having some other interests like classical music.' This explains the creation of a new humanities and social sciences faculty that would involve the extension of existing departments. 'PolyU is strongest in engineering, construction, life sciences and health sciences. We would like to expand the social sciences and humanities programmes so that cross-cultural fertilisation between different disciplines can take place,' the vice-president said. But the university would not do anything drastic in its preparation for the new four-year curriculum. 'We plan to build on what we are doing now. We have already factored some desirable aspects into the current curriculum that we would like to enhance further,' Professor Demokan said. One such aspect would be the introduction of major and minor courses, which were already available although only 5 per cent of students had chosen to do a combination of these programmes. Starting from 2012, students would have to choose a range of major and minor studies rather than focus on just one programme, the vice-president said, adding that the university tried to find out why students were not keen to take up more courses. 'They're used to doing just one programme and don't know there are alternatives. They are also concerned that they may not be in a programme that will give them professional accreditation,' Professor Demokan said. '[Neither do] departments encourage students to choose majors and minors because they think they will lose resources [in doing so].' Currently resources are in the grip of the central administration and the amount of resources allocated to an academic department hinges on the number of students enrolling in the full programmes it offers. 'If a student chooses to do a major or a minor, the department will get only a fraction of the resources it would have got,' Professor Demokan said. The university is now working on a new resource model partly to give departments more initiative to encourage students to take on both major and minor courses. Under the new academic curriculum, students would not have to specify the programme they wanted to enrol in when they submitted an application. Instead, they would choose any of the 12 broad-based disciplines, including engineering and business, so that they would know more about different courses within a discipline and be able to make an informed choice when they picked their majors in their second year. But a problem would likely arise if all students were granted their preferences, Professor Demokan said. 'What happens when a large number of students choose accountancy but a very small number chooses management and even a smaller number chooses marketing in one year while in the following year it is reversed? 'Departments would not be able to adjust their resources in time if the number of students enrolling in one programme fluctuates every year,' Professor Demokan said. The university is trying to come up with a resource model to minimise the foreseen effects of the fluctuation and give students a free choice. The vice-president said the central administration would likely have to pass its control over resources onto faculty deans who would then be able to handle them more flexibly. Professor Demokan added that first year undergraduates under the '3+3+4' structure would have to sit in on bigger lectures since they would be attending more classes in common, having been accepted to a broad-based discipline. But he said disadvantages of large classes would be offset by the fact that first year students would be taught by the most experienced teachers. 'Besides, Hong Kong students aren't too interactive. Even in a small class if you ask a question, [students] don't answer,' he said. 'If you take them to a bigger class you don't expect the quality [of the class] to go down too much because [students] don't interact anyway.' Not that Professor Demokan has not encouraged students to take more initiative in class. He once incorporated class participation into assessment but students stopped raising hands and asking questions in class once the element no longer counted toward the final grade. 'They haven't been used to an education culture like that. They receive information from teachers all through their primary and secondary schooling. And they think that it's slightly disrespectful to ask questions. They think they are testing the knowledge of the professor,' Professor Demokan said. He added that the university would take advantage of the new academic structure to step up 'outcome-based learning', a kind of teaching and assessment exercise that is promoted by the University Grants Committee and which seeks to instil general competencies in students, ranging from the ability to work in a team and leadership to creativity, critical thinking and social responsibility. Professor Demokan said outcome-based learning had been introduced at PolyU but more would be done to develop ways to assess general attributes more accurately, which could not be measured in tests and examinations. And while activities were being organised outside the curriculum to develop desirable qualities in students, the university felt it was necessary for students to gain these attributes in the formal curriculum, he said. Hence the university was in the process of explaining to academics the importance of outcome-based learning through dialogues and workshops. The vice-president said the university needed to gain academics' co-operation and convince them students would be better off when outcome-based learning was put into place effectively. 'There's another more enlightening way of teaching students. It's not only about going into the classroom and lecturing, lecturing and lecturing,' he said.