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Innovative education for tomorrow’s workplace

Published on Wednesday, 23 May 2012
Professor Way Kuo

Ancient Buddhist murals located deep within a cave complex in Gansu province recently enthralled a contemporary audience in Hong Kong. Thanks to cutting-edge virtual-reality technology, the exquisite brushwork could be seen at an exhibition hosted by the School of Creative Media at City University of Hong Kong (CityU).

In a 360-degree panoramic projection theatre, visitors could marvel at the Tang Dynasty Buddhist art in Cave 220, one of the famous Mogao Grottoes at Dunhuang, which is no longer open to the public.

Such a project is an innovative example of how universities can train students in the professional skills needed for target growth industries. In this case, those specialised skills included organising archaeological exhibitions for museums, digital interpretation, and sustainable preservation of precious artwork.

It took a wide range of expertise in programming, graphic design, art history, cultural management, and the environment to make this project possible. And it clearly showed that the more skills and interdisciplinary knowledge individuals can bring to the table, the greater their chance of success. That is the message we are sending our students.

At CityU, we know very well that our job is to produce the necessary talent for the local and regional human resources industry. The only way to do this is by creating a rich, interdisciplinary learning environment in which students can excel.

For example, we can’t hope to confront the environmental problems the planet faces today by simply studying weather patterns. That’s why our School of Energy and Environment covers a broad spectrum, encompassing energy science, engineering, technology, climate science, legislation and economics. It is essential that future managers, who will be responsible for environment and sustainability issues, are trained in the totality of the subject and what it touches.

At CityU, though, we don’t depend on individual colleges, schools and departments to lead the way in this mission to cultivate well-rounded graduates for today’s job market. In the run-up to the transition to the 3-3-4 education system, we overhauled our entire curriculum and have made discovery and innovation our focus in all areas of learning.

In practical terms, this means that every student in the new four-year undergraduate structure will receive the support needed to make an original discovery during his or her studies. By fostering students’ ability to create new knowledge and then communicate, curate, and cultivate it for the benefit of society, we will be producing graduates ready to succeed in the 21st-century workplace. This ground-breaking approach frames the entire educational experience at CityU and will spearhead a new era in interdisciplinary professional education in Hong Kong.

As far as we know, no other university has placed discovery and innovation at the forefront of its educational package, so we hope to serve as a catalyst for others to take a similar direction.

To advance the new curriculum, the university has established grants and awards for students and academic staff. These reward excellence in teaching and learning in the newly-enriched academic environment. There are also new labs, learning spaces, and classroom buildings on campus.

We now view CityU as an interdisciplinary “laboratory” where students have the freedom and expert mentoring to fulfil their ambitions and interests. Highly motivated, creative and articulate individuals are the kind of people that business and industry will need to take their sectors forward.

The artists who painted the murals decorating Cave 220 in Dunhuang could not imagine in their wildest dreams that their artwork would be viewed thousands of miles away and hundreds of years later as a specially configured cinematic experience. But today, that is possible. And by initiating a fresh approach to the university learning experience, we can unchain our own imaginations and let our creative instincts evolve through discovery and innovation.

Professor Way Kuo is president of City University of Hong Kong and a member of the US National Academy of Engineering

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