Universities in Hong Kong

Time to invest in a sustainable future

  • From city planning to environmental protection, studies in sustainability are highly sought after and have become popular in both education and business fields
PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 08 January, 2019, 9:59am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 08 January, 2019, 9:59am

As sustainability has become a major part of the discourse in business dealings and urban developments in Hong Kong, China and the rest of the world, it pays to have the know-how required to build a smart city.

For university graduates who aspire to work in the fields of corporate sustainability, environmental management or consultancy, or those who are already in business development and management but would like to acquire knowledge of environmental issues, the master of social science in the field of corporate environmental governance offered by the University of Hong Kong (HKU) could be an ideal choice.

“Our aim is to attract talented individuals to join a programme that will equip them with the knowledge and understanding of the complex socio-economic and environmental challenges our globalised world faces,” says Dr Margaret Burnett, programme director.

The programme, which can be completed in a year for full-time students and two years for part-time, takes on an interdisciplinary approach to tackle the interdependencies of sustainability issues.

It aims to assist future decision makers who are, according to Burnett, able to “break from silo thinking”, and who are equipped with environmental literacy and understanding of the interplay across social, political and environmental issues.

This is in response to the increasing need from businesses and organisations for a workforce which understands the relationship between science, human behaviour, economy as well as the environmental challenges faced by the planet.

“One key objective of our approach is for the students to begin to synthesise ideas, and to synthesise characteristics from many disciplines and schools of thought,” says Burnett. “This allows the learner to see the differences between disciplines and experiences while developing open-mindedness and transferable skills.”

“The programme supports the development of a workforce that can bring systems thinking to business decision-making expertise together to address society’s 21st-century challenges.”

The programme is taught in English by instructors with impressive experience in international and local businesses, non-governmental organisations and academic-based research projects. Apart from classroom teaching, student learning is also facilitated through guest-speaker sharing, case studies, site visits and interaction with entrepreneurs and professionals from both private and non-profit sectors.

In terms of programme design, students are required to complete six core subjects: corporate environmental management, management system and auditing, environmental economics and analysis, business and environmental policy, business and sustainable development and corporate social responsibility and beyond.

“The six courses are offered as the spine or building blocks upon which students gain a broader understanding of the chronological development of what is sustainability or sustainable development today,” says Burnett. “Business applications, behavioural economics, policy development, governance and management systems are brought together using the lenses of eco-justice, social equity and economic inclusivity.

“The operating environment within which businesses operate is challenging and complex, and this programme delivers courses that explore this complexity.” The programme also offers a range of electives to enable students to tackle current issues faced by society, such as business in a low carbon economy, green and sustainable finance, and exploring the meaning of sustainable cities and communities.

Students are presented with different schools of thoughts and case studies in alternative markets to stimulate them into thinking outside the box.

All students are required to complete a capstone course, or final-year project, where they have to choose particular issues in the real world, usually those connected to Hong Kong, and work as a team to explore potential solutions.

Graduates from engineering, construction, real estate, architecture, environmental science or urban planning, on the other hand, may consider the master of science in sustainable urban development offered by the Hong Kong Polytechnic University (PolyU).

It is jointly offered by the four departments in the faculty of construction and environment: building and real estate; building services engineering; civil and environmental engineering; and land surveying and geo-informatics.

Prospective students can also choose to study for the postgraduate diploma in sustainable urban development, which requires 21 credits instead of 30. “There was no programme that covered all aspects of urban sustainability development from an engineer’s point of view,” says professor Yang Hongxing, the programme leader.

“However, sustainability has become such a vital issue in various aspects of urban development because more and more people are moving into the city, especially on the mainland. “Urban areas have to deal with air and water pollution, solid and waste-water treatment, energy application in buildings, and transportation issues, among many others.

“Our engineering graduates will literally be designing and building the city, and they need the knowledge across the various disciplines of building and real estate, land surveying and urban development to understand the bigger picture and do things right. That is why it is so important to have one single programme that covers all the basics.”

In terms of course design, students are required to take four compulsory subjects offered by the four departments in the faculty: urban planning and urban design, development finance and investment, sustainability and the built environment, and sustainability development and environmental planning.

On top of the four compulsory subjects, students also have to choose three core subjects and three electives. Some of the more popular choices include energy-efficient buildings, real-estate development, noise and vibration in sustainable built environments, and environmental impact assessment.

While most of the courses are taught in the classroom, some may involve laboratory work and site visits. Guest professors from Chinese and other overseas universities are also invited to give seminars and tutorials.

Since the programme is accredited by the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS), students will join the body as a student member and attend RICS conferences and events. The faculty is made up of staff with teaching and work experience in Hong Kong, China, the United States, Australia and the United Kingdom, and they are all well connected within the industry as they regularly engage in consultancy work and research projects.

Professor Yang, for example, is the president of the Solar Energy Society of Hong Kong. As urbanisation is a major issue on the national agenda in China, the master’s programme has been attracting considerable interest from across the border. Two-thirds of the current class of 45 are from the mainland.

The programme, which is primarily taught in English, attracts more than 200 applications every year.

“There is a reason why this course is offered on a postgraduate level instead of undergraduate level. For students in the area of construction and environment, such as building service engineering, they really need to spend their undergraduate years focusing on their major to have a solid foundation,” says Professor Yang.

“It is generally hard for engineering undergraduates to find the time to explore what is outside their major training.

“While their career may depend mainly on their bachelor's degree, studying this master’s programme will surely have benefits. “They are much more knowledgeable in urban sustainability than other engineering graduates, and it will be easier for them to find jobs related to sustainable urban development with urban design companies, consultancy firms, and the governments in Hong Kong and the mainland.”

2017 graduate Wang Qingzi got her first degree in urban planning from Wuhan University. She is now working in the China Academy of Urban Planning and Design as an urban planner. “I chose to study PolyU’s MSc in sustainable urban development programme because it is an all-inclusive programme that covers aspects of management, surveying, engineering and environmental sciences, providing me with multidisciplinary knowledge in urban planning and sustainable environment development,” she says.