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Hiring diverse experts

Universities draw on diverse expertise as they prepare to roll out hundreds of general education (GE) courses at the launch of the four-year curriculum in 2012.

Lingnan University, for one, regards its own GE offerings as a defining curriculum. "The GE experience should mould our future students into what we hope our graduates to be," says Professor William Lee, the university's registrar and associate vice-president of academic affairs.

Besides compulsory language courses, it involves a 33-credit core curriculum covering the subject areas of critical thinking, understanding morality (ethics and morals), world history, and the making of Hong Kong, on top of some course clusters - each with 15 to 20 courses for students to choose from. The making of Hong Kong is a multidisciplinary course that allows students to develop a broader view of local society and policies, Lee says.

The liberal arts college is looking to hire around 20 teachers to support small-class teaching. While higher education recruitment is a global business, Lee maintains that candidates with local qualifications stand a fair chance of being hired. "It depends on the area of discipline. If the subject matter and its content are local, we may hire local candidates. Benefits and remunerations are all determined by rank. Expatriate terms no longer exist today," he says.

For the past 16 years, the University of Hong Kong (HKU) has depended upon local expertise for its GE courses which are non-credit-bearing and open to student participation on a voluntary basis.

HKU will continue its role in meeting the need to broaden the scope of the curriculum without the risk of overlapping with the content of HKU's new common core curriculum, which will be expanded from next year.

"For example, on the topic of food, we can invite people to explain how Halal food is related to the Muslim belief or organise cuisine tasting," says the director of the GE unit, Dr Albert Chau, who is also HKU's dean of student affairs.

"We can be very flexible and responsive [to current issues]. If we think there is a need to engage our students in some intellectual discussion about big issues, we can organise a talk or seminar very quickly," he says. 

Dr Chau sees a growing need for university staff with wide community contacts, to place students in a real world setting and bring outside experts to campus. "There is an opportunity for non-academic people to make the learning life of students more diverse and richer," he says.

Other institutions also have a wealth of options for students. Baptist University has up to 235 GE courses on offer, including electives from various disciplines and courses in the following compulsory core areas: physical education, public speaking, English, Chinese, information management technology, numeracy, history and civilization, and values and the meaning of life.

The broadening subjects at Polytechnic University come under "cluster areas" that include human nature, relations and development; community, organisation and globalisation; science, technology and environment; history, culture and world views.

To produce graduates for the globalised, hi-tech world, City University (CityU) has launched its discovery-enriched curriculum that encompasses multidisciplinary GE courses designed by its own faculty. The courses are meant to help students select a major after the second semester of their first year of study, says the CityU provost, Professor Arthur Ellis.

At CityU, he adds, general education is called Gateway Education. "It is to ignite students' passion for learning, discovery and innovation. We really want students to realise it is their decision to have their own ideas, to come up with new inventions, discoveries and creations. We want to facilitate that process. We see Gateway Education courses as a gateway to that kind of culture at CityU," says Ellis.

Some of those courses are cutting-edge, covering stem cell research or the issue of climate change. The GE component will comprise a quarter of the credits required for graduation.

CityU needs 100 new faculty to cope with the additional teaching load, but Ellis stresses they would not rush to hire. "We have allocated about a quarter of these positions for inter-disciplinary hires, that is, these would be faculty who would be jointly appointed across two colleges or a college and a school. These are the people who will contribute both to the research and teaching enterprises at CityU."

He is also anticipating visitors from various backgrounds to be guest speakers and share ideas with students doing various GE courses.

Future staffing needs will be partly shouldered by the newly formed International Transition Team, comprising postgraduate students who will help with improving undergraduates' English proficiency, postdoctoral fellows and other academics who can work at the university for just one semester or one year. This also serves the university's goal of internationalisation as the temporary teachers will become CityU ambassadors when they return to their home institutions, according to Ellis.

It is "really outstanding individuals" that the university will recruit, regardless of whether they are from overseas or Hong Kong, Ellis adds.

"International experience is becoming the norm for many people in academic circles. We look at every individual on a case by case basis, depending on what experience he has and what he will bring to CityU," he says.