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Universities in talent search

Published on Friday, 25 Mar 2011
Photo: iStock
Arthur Ellis
Philip Chan
Kenneth Young

Hong Kong universities are raising their international profile through global recruitment drives to meet manpower needs for the new four-year curriculum, effective next year.

Polytechnic University (PolyU) and City University (CityU) are among the institutions engaged in a global search for additional faculty needed for the expanding undergraduate population. Both share the same target of hiring an additional 100 teaching staff for the four-year curriculum, which will comprise increased language training and general education.

CityU will put overseas academics and graduate students from abroad on its international transition team, which provides teaching and research support at the beginning of the new curriculum. "We have asked our faculty to contact their networks to bring visiting faculty here for a year or a semester so that they could share their teaching experience and expertise with us," says Professor Arthur Ellis, provost of CityU. The visiting academics are expected to bring to the Kowloon Tong-based institution new ideas for teaching and learning, plus new perspectives. They can also be "ambassadors" for the university on their return to their home countries. To be held in parallel with the transitional plan, will be the search for permanent faculty, which, in Ellis's words, might take a couple of years for the search to be done in a "careful and deliberate way". He acknowledges the possibility of some of the visiting faculty ending up staying at the university for a longer term.

On the other hand, graduate students from English-speaking countries studying at CityU will have an attractive option. They will be approached to help enhance CityU students' level of English proficiency, being paid in return.

CityU has consulted its staff over its academic development plan and held workshops to orient them to the four-year system. "It is a big change and we want everyone on board and feel confident that we are prepared for it," Ellis says.

At PolyU, induction activities have been held for new staff to help them adapt to the university. Already, with more than 3,000 staff members from various parts of the world, it encourages not just its human resources office but also individual departments to arrange induction activities to help staff integration into the vast community on campus. "Our colleagues come from different backgrounds, but we are glad they have mixed very well together," says Professor Philip Chan Ching-ho, PolyU's deputy president and provost.

To attract and retain high-calibre staff, the university has launched a new pay package with salary raises and a special monthly allowance for teachers of subjects in great demand. Staff professional development is another priority.

The university's Educational Development Centre has provided short courses, workshops, seminars, sharing sessions, individual consultations and so forth to support the expanding teaching team.

In the past two academic years, more than 100 full-time teaching staff have completed the certificate in introduction to university teaching course offered by the centre. A separate programme gives practical teaching tips to part-time and visiting teachers. The basic teaching techniques for research staff and research students programme imparts techniques on how to support student learning in tutorials and practical lessons. Overseas experts have also given talks on topics such as enhancing students' first-year experience.

PolyU has stepped up internal communication to ensure staff are well prepared for the milestone in local higher education development. "Not only academic staff but also administrative staff are all gearing up for the four-year curriculum. We all see this as an opportunity to overhaul undergraduate education for the benefits of our next generation and for the community as a whole," Chan says.

Classical studies

The Chinese University (CUHK) sees the four-year university curriculum, to be put into practice next year, as an opportunity to foster general education.

All undergraduates are required from next year to take 21 credits from general education (GE) courses, instead of 15 at present. The six additional units will be delivered through the completion of a GE foundation programme comprising in dialogue with nature and in dialogue with humanity, that are mandatory for all first-year bachelor students.

The two dialogues cover original texts of classics, ranging from Aristotle and Xunzi to Henri Poincare. "Reading such classics is fruitful, not so much in the sense that it could help the students get a good job, but it will help them come into contact with great minds, and glimpse how they think about certain problems of universal human concern and the way they grapple with these issues," says Professor Kenneth Young, pro vice-chancellor and vice-president of CUHK.

As some 3,000 freshmen are expected to enrol in CUHK each year, the demand for teachers of the new GE foundation programme will intensify, but it does not present a concern to Young.

"Although I am a scientist and do research on physics most of the time, I am going to volunteer to teach [in dialogue with humanity] in the coming semester, and I expect many teachers from different disciplines feel the same way. We encourage [existing] teaching staff with interdisciplinary interests and concerns to join the team," the professor of physics says.

The two dialogues have been running for two years, first as pilot elective courses in 2009 and as mandatory courses for all Form Six entrants last year.

According to Young, training will be provided for teaching staff. "The main concern is not so much the subject knowledge but the pedagogy; our role is to encourage discussions, and help students relate classics to contemporary concerns and to inspire the students, as we are dealing with the liberal arts and not technical disciplines," Young says.

"We hope all Chinese University students will share a common learning experience, and it is through general education, in particular, that we shall achieve this. Perhaps students would in future remember the days when they discussed Adam Smith or Plato together - not only in the classroom but on the school bus as well," Young says. Ginn Fung

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