Championing socially relevant research at Shue Yan
For a liberal arts college that was granted university status in 2006, Hong Kong Shue Yan University (HKSYU) has punched above its weight when it comes to championing socially relevant research.
Providing students with the opportunity to engage with research is a crucial element of a quality education. Ensuring that this kind of engagement with research occurs across departments in an evidence-based and interdisciplinary manner is a distinguishing feature of HKSYU’s dedication in recent years to become a teaching-led and research-active institution.
This has especially been the case as many of the research activities have been open to members of the public to join for free.
Indeed, as HKSYU Academic Vice-President Professor Catherine Sun Tien-lun puts it, “SYU’s goal is to build a better world by promoting research, and every effort is made to facilitate knowledge transfer from the university community to the public sector and relevant sectors of industry,” HKSYU helps build the fundamentals of a vibrant knowledge-based economy.
To develop its research capabilities, HKSYU set-up its Research Office in 2013 to encourage research activity as well as support professors and staff members to apply for funding. As a result of seminars by guest speakers on grant applications as well as opportunities to collaborate on innovative research, HKSYU is winning an increasing number of research grants to further cultivate a vibrant research culture. As of this year, HKSYU has accumulated more than HK$28.3million from the Hong Kong Government’s Research Grants Committee (RGC) alone. Funds from other institutions have also been acquired such as the Home Affairs Bureau, the Education Bureau, the Hong Kong Jockey Club Charities Trust, and the Lord Wilson Heritage Trust.
Strategically, these funds were used in four main ways: to establish an interdisciplinary research platform, to facilitate research by purchasing scientific equipment, to help academics produce and publish research papers, and to provide more opportunities for academics to widen their academic connections and to keep abreast with new breakthroughs in their respective fields. To facilitate these research projects, twelve research centres at HKSYU have helped cultivate greater opportunities for knowledge transfer, which refers to the transfer of information, expertise, and skills between academia and the wider public.
One such research centre is the Business, Economic and Public Policy Research Centre (BEPP), which focuses on facilitating research projects with policy implications for youth and family, work and management, and learning in universities or secondary schools. The projects are often innovative, and relevant to current social trends in Hong Kong. For example, one study on “Research on Mobile Apps and the Improvement of Family Relationships” found that there was indeed an ideal behavioural model on the use of mobile phone apps which could improve family relationships and strengthen family values. Such findings, when used to inform policy-level decisions, can help make life better in a practical and fundamental way, something which can benefit all of society.
Another way in which HKSYU has contributed to society is through the way it has focused its interdisciplinary research on three key themes. The first theme, on ‘brain-based’ teaching, refers to a type of pedagogy informed by the processes of how brains best function under different learning conditions. The other two themes, namely, decision making, and negotiation and persuasion, each also have direct relevance to the workings of a healthy society as they can inform best practices of conflict resolution, management and leadership in the workplace as well as in everyday life.
Reflecting on HKSYU’s key research achievements over the years, Professor Sun expressed pride and is optimistic about the future development of HKSYU’s strategic research efforts. One area she mentions in particular is a project to explore Youth Career Development, a project which will bring colleagues from different departments such as psychology, sociology, social work and business administration to work together on cultivating talent.
HKSYU is confident that their focus on evidence-based and interdisciplinary research will benefit students. “If you are conducting evidence-based research, it means you have to collect empirical data from the community or from your informants. This is very helpful for students’ learning in terms of giving them hands-on experience which in turn will help them learn better,” Professor Sun says. On having an interdisciplinary approach, she says that “if we draw from a wider base of research, the potential for discovering something useful is greater.”
Moving forward, she hopes the university will pioneer what she calls ‘research clusters.’ As nodes of research activity, these networks will comprise professors, students, and members of the public who can work together based on mutual interests to develop real-world solutions to social issues.
These strides forward in research activity have the potential to expand upon current industry best practices while also providing opportunities for the public to engage with the latest developments on various topics, all of which, of course, lay the foundations of a great society.