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For an educated workforce

Published on Wednesday, 23 May 2012
Professor Timothy W. Tong

With globalisation resulting in tougher competition all over the world, there is a growing recognition that, in any economy, human resources are the most valuable asset. This is particularly true of a knowledge-based economy like Hong Kong’s. In fact, our city’s progress, social well-being, and sustainable development hinge on having a properly educated workforce with the intellect, skills and perspectives needed to succeed in the 21st century.

In terms of developing human capital, Hong Kong’s higher education sector plays an increasingly prominent role. In 2001, only about 16 per cent of our working population held a post-secondary degree. A decade later, this had surged to 26 per cent, and now our publicly funded universities send forth more than 17,000 undergraduates every year, with over 4,000 graduating annually from self-financed programmes.

The Hong Kong Polytechnic University (PolyU) has the largest student population – around 30,000 – among the eight publicly funded tertiary institutions. We are keenly aware of our unique role in providing a broad-based education leading to the development of all-round students with professional competencies. Over the past 75 years, PolyU has nurtured more than 300,000 graduates, many of whom have become movers and shakers in business and industry, and influential leaders in their professions in Hong Kong, mainland China and overseas.

As we prepare for the implementation of the new four-year tertiary education structure later this year, we are mindful of the type of talent our society and country will need in future. We have redesigned the undergraduate curriculum to give students the abilities and attributes to challenge the present and enrich the future, while also having a strong sense of social responsibility.

Our guiding vision is to nurture graduates who exemplify key characteristics. Webelieve they should be critical thinkers, not just accumulating information or reproducing what they learn in the classroom. With ourinternationalised programmes and a wide range of co-curricular activities, students can develop a global outlook and be receptive to cultural diversity and different perspectives. They will then have the ability to identify and construct arguments and be capable of applying their knowledge and experience to solving practical problems.

We also want students to become effective communicators who are biliterate and trilingual. English and Chinese language subjects are part of the core curriculum, while the general education programme and specific disciplines include extensive reading and writing components to enhance overall fluency. There is also a campus-wide initiative designed to foster a reading culture across the university.

Another goal is to encourage innovation and analysis, so that students challenge assumptions and keep looking for creative new solutions. In this respect, we now have a mandatory “work-integrated education” component which gives undergraduates real-life experience in the workplace. They also complete a project which consolidates learning experiences and requires them to solve a complex problem related to their discipline. And various courses teach entrepreneurship and what it takes to turn ideas into a viable business plan.

Finally, PolyU’s objective is to create lifelong learners and ethical leaders. Personal success and social progress depend on a willingness to pursue knowledge and adapt. Along with that, anyone who hopes to function as an effective leader requires ethical sensitivity and a strong sense of social purpose.

That is why we offer all PolyU students a core general education subject on leadership and intra-personal development. The course covers constructs such as resilience, moral competence and interpersonal communication. Students must also take a credit-bearing course on service learning so they can apply the skills acquired to serve people in need.

With the world becoming more interdependent, unpredictable and competitive, universities are expected to take on many different roles. However, the core mission of higher education is still to nurture future leaders who can think, change and challenge, and make a positive impact on our society.

Professor Timothy W. Tong is president of The Hong Kong Polytechnic University

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