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Guardians of greener future

City is training environmental professionals

As environmental issues continue to command more space on the agendas of industry, government and the public, Hong Kong tertiary institutions are expanding their programme offerings designed to train and support the next generation of environmental professionals.

While Hong Kong universities offer a broad range of environmental programmes, Dr Billy Hau, deputy programme director MSc in Environmental Management, School of Biological Sciences at the University of Hong Kong (HKU), believes that at community level, understanding of environmental issues remain at a low level.

“While many decisions made by the Hong Kong government have an environmental connection, I believe a significant lack of real environmental awareness in our community is one of the reasons it takes such a long time to deal with environmental issues,” Hau says. “Take, for example, the reluctance to pay for waste disposal and the amount of time it took to do something about reducing the use of plastic bags.”

According to Hau, it is the perspectives surrounding a wide variety of environmental and sustainability issues the MSc in Environmental Management seeks to address.

“The primary goal is not simply to train environmental engineers, but to strengthen environmental knowledge across many areas,” says Hau, who also believes environmental-awareness teaching should play a bigger role in the secondary education curriculum.

Hau says the environmental management programme, which was launched in 1989, has evolved by incorporating global trends of how to approach environmental issues. “The programme has expanded from how to deal with air, water and noise pollution to wider areas including sustainability and climate change,” he says.

The programme also covers aspects of environmental science and environmental engineering, as well as legal and policy-related concerns. To provide an effective understanding of their nature and causes, the programme also emphasises the importance of developing an integrated approach to the analysis of environmental and sustainability problems.

“When our graduates make environmental-related decisions in the workplace, we want to ensure they do so from an informed background,” says Hau, adding that this includes the environmental impact of production, financing, sourcing products and materials.

Since the programme was launched, more than 600 students have graduated from the one-year full-time or the two-year part-time course. The programme can accommodate about 23 full-time and 35 part-time students, but Hau says demand exceeds available places. “Graduates from our programme can look forward to a promising career,” he says.

Professor Frank Lee, programme leader of the PolyU MSc in Environmental Management and Engineering, also sees a bright future for environmental specialists.

“Whether it is policy, sustainability, compliance or management, government, non-government organisations and all areas of industry need people with relevant environmental knowledge,” says Lee. “Now is a good time to upgrade and expand environmental knowledge in readiness for the future.”

To meet growing demand, student intake has been expanded from about 45 to 55. Offered as a one-year full-time or two to three year part-time programme, the PolyU MSc in Environmental Management and Engineering is designed with a focus on content and flexibility, Lee says. Areas covered include water and wastewater treatment, air pollution and noise pollution control. The programme also takes in air pollution impact assessment, solid and hazardous waste management and sustainable development and environmental planning.

“The programme is a combination of theory and hands-on learning,” says the professor. “For example, we invite guest speakers from government and industry to talk about latest trends and also visit power producers, landfill sites and waste management.”

Students must complete seven subjects, including at least four core topics — two each from environmental engineering and management plus a dissertation that is relevant to either fields.

At the Open University of Hong Kong (OUHK), postgraduate programmes provide a continuing learning path geared towards different areas of environmental management.

Dr Yau Yiu-hung, assistant professor at the School of Science and Technology, says increasing public awareness of energy and environmental pollution issues is driving demand for professionals with specialised understanding. “Our programmes help improve performance in their current jobs and increase the opportunity for promotion,” Yau says.

Part-time programmes include a master of engineering and environmental technology management designed to enable engineers and technical professionals to take leadership responsibilities in the areas where they work.

Similarly, the Master’s in Safety, Occupational Health and Environmental Management is designed for training students with integrated knowledge and practical skills to meet the professional requirements in said areas in Hong Kong and the Pearl River Delta. “While our programme content focuses on local environmental concerns, they also incorporate a global vision,” Yau says.

Environmental MSc programmes offered by the Hong Kong Baptist University (HKBU) are also geared towards different areas of environmental study. For example, the MSc in Green Technology (Energy) exposes the interdisciplinary nature of green technology. The one-year full-time or two-year part-time programme covers energy production, environmental monitoring, social studies and hands-on experience.

Although not directly linked to mainstream environmental issues, the HKBU MSc in Food Analysis and Food Safety Management incorporates topics relevant to the needs of public and industrial food laboratories and research organisations.

Meanwhile, the university’s MSc in Environmental and Public Health Management uses an interdisciplinary approach to incorporate management techniques into effective management of environmental issues and care services. In addition to conventional issues, the programme also focuses on the relationships between economics, regulations and policies, management techniques, health risk analysis, and social and ethical values.