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How students learn to master the way to a better world and life

Social science and fine arts postgraduate courses offer intangible rewards apart from monetary and career benefits

PUBLISHED : Friday, 22 December, 2017, 10:01am
UPDATED : Friday, 12 January, 2018, 4:14pm

While globalisation, digitalisation and social media are helping to bring virtually everything – and everyone – closer together thanks to easier access, they also present challenges.

Such advances mean there is a much greater interdependence between the global economic and social issues facing international policymakers, government officials, academics and researchers.

“Governments across the globe increasingly face similar policy challenges, but the special answers to them continue to vary considerably,” says Professor Stefan Kuehner, assistant professor at Lingnan University and programme director of the new master of social sciences in comparative social policy (international) programme, known as IMCSP.

“Comparing the social policies and politics in different localities helps students understand whether their own country or city is typical or unusual, or whether it is a leader or a laggard with regard to specific aspects of public services provision.”

Governments across the globe increasingly face similar policy challenges, but the special answers to them continue to vary considerably
Professor Stefan Kuehner

Kuehner, a renowned social sciences scholar who worked at Britain’s University of York before moving to Lingnan in 2016, says IMCSP is primarily designed for graduates with degrees in social policy, public policy, international development, sociology or other social sciences, or professionals whose work is directly related to social policy formulation, execution and analysis.

IMCSP also aims to attract students with a keen interest in key social and economic issues, such as inequality, poverty, ageing and the increasing financial pressures facing working families worldwide.

Kuehner says: “It is not a programme where professors will always have the final answer to every question, but rather they can facilitate students to ask the right questions and critically reflect upon the most suitable way to arrive at meaningful and well-argued research findings to answer these questions.

“Some students may ask: how is people’s experience of poverty and material deprivation affected by existing social policies in Hong Kong and across Asia-Pacific countries?

“Others may consider how different higher education policies influence young people’s chances to fulfil their potential, or whether there are any broader lessons in the public support for pensioners in greater Chinese cases for Hong Kong, or vice versa.

“Or from a broader perspective, what are the factors impacting [on] the work-life balance of families with children in different national and international contexts?”

Apart from guiding and inspiring students to find the most appropriate way and methodology for their research or subject in question, the one-year, full-time master’s course also aims to provide students with international exposure and perspective through interactions with overseas scholars, experts and other parties during regular lectures and classes, as well as events organised by the school and its partners.

“They will also have the opportunity to visit our partner universities in Greater China and East Asia, and some of them will even study at the University of York for one term,” Kuehner says.

To graduate, students must complete five compulsory courses in the autumn term, and three elective courses and a research project of their own choice in the spring and summer terms.

“By working with FDMT.HK [a company helping universities and colleges tailor courses to vocations], the programme is in a positi ensure that all of our students will benefit from personal one-to-one career advice to turn their interest in social policy analysis, design and advocacy into meaningful and exciting future careers,” Kuehner says.

Yet the focus of career advancement does not only involve financial rewards. Self improvement and fulfilment are also the aims of many postgraduate degree students.

For students and graduates of the master of fine arts in dance course at the Hong Kong Academy for Performing Arts (HKAPA), for example, the pursuit of beauty and perfection in self expression are two of the goals driving them to keep studying.

“Almost all students [of the programme] want to have an artistic career as a performer – this is natural, especially when one is young,” says Professor Joseph Gonzales, head of academic and contextual studies at HKAPA.

“In order to achieve that, however, we need to ‘study’ – learning and training in dance is studying. It is kinaesthetic and embodied knowledge, which is a recognised intelligence.”

Gonzales, who has spent more than 30 years as a professional dancer performing various styles around the world, says the programme offers its students the flexibility to choose subjects across a range of areas, such as choreography, interdisciplinary performance, pedagogy, dance and technology, as well as dance science.

“What is unique about the programme is that the students will ultimately be in charge of their own learning, allowing each student to be responsible for his or her own [career and learning] path,” Gonzales says.

The programme aims to promote the idea of a “reflective practitioner” and “self-directed learning”, which suggests the lecturer takes on the role of a guide to learning, leaving the student to take on more responsibility throughout the course, Gonzales says.

“There are no specific genres that the programme focuses on,” he says. “Students can work in any area they are interested in and where their expertise lies. We will provide them with the necessary skills and guidance if their option is an area in which our school hasn’t been able to offer.”

In addition to artistic and professional support, the programme also offers students tremendous international exposure, which will broaden their horizons as well as their social networks.

Over the past few years, students on the programme have been offered the opportunity to work with the Beijing Dance Academy, Taipei National University of Arts, Zurich University of Arts and Poland University of the Arts.

“They can also tap into our vast network of international relationships to build a portfolio before they leave, to prepare for their careers,” says Gonzales, the former dean of dance at ASWARA [Malaysia’s government-backed performing arts higher-learning institute].

“For instance, if they wish to be trained more as choreographers, there will be incredible opportunities for them to be exposed to both local and international artists and choreographers, who are able to provide insight into their practices, as well as open doors to staging possibilities,” he says.

The master’s course offers two-year full-time, and three-to-four year part-time modes of study, with 2018/19 tuition fees of HK$101,000 and HK$67,400 annually, respectively.

“The arts give you new perspectives in life, and allows you to experience the finer things of beauty, of love and life itself,” Gonzales says.

“In contemporary times, art holds a mirror to society and forces us to comment on our status and situations. Arts serve a myriad of functions, from entertainment to catharsis to healing to meditation.”

When asked whether Hong Kong is a cultural desert, Gonzales says: “It is not so much a desert as a city where the obvious focus is financial and material well-being.

“Nevertheless, this cannot, and must not stop artists from doing what they do – making work and presenting it whenever possible, wherever possible.”

This article appeared in the Professional Education Guide 2018 as: studying for a better world