Talk with Prof Tsui Lap-chee About Our Tertiary Education

PTU News Reporter

261eng1Prof Tsui Lap-chee served as vice chancellor of the Hong Kong University (HKU) for 12 years, which ended on 1 April. Before the end of his tenure, he talked and exchanged views with Fung Wai-wah, our President, about the universities’ over-emphasis on the university rankings, the admission of too many non-local students, the undermining of academic freedom, and other hot issues concerned by our tertiary institutions.

Emphasis on the University Rankings at cost of the community and teaching quality

According to Fung, fierce competitions among local and international institutions were attributed to the emphasis on the university rankings, and as a result the local institutions tended towards distributing excessive resources to the research projects, which led to the eclipse of teaching and in turn deteriorated the teaching quality. Tsui responded that the university rankings system has been adopting for many years in the US, and the ranking criteria did not only cover the number of journal papers published. “Tertiary education should aim at achieving these 3 main objectives: create knowledge, serve the community, and nurture students. Disappointingly, in the rankings system the latter two criteria are less assessed,” said Tsui. He also admitted that the rankings system would create tensions for the institutions, but it would enhance schools proactivity. HKU had set up her own visions, which did not only focus on local competitions, but were based on a global perspective. Tsui believed that students’ global perspectives, care for community and ability of critical thinking should be nurtured in the institutions. “The institutions should teach students how to grasp the new knowledge and think critically,” said Tsui.

Fung further pointed that teaching staff of the local institutions was assessed by their number of journal articles published, which led to teachers’ over-emphasis on research projects, rather than stimulating students to learn and think. Tsui agreed that teachers’ performance should be evaluated objectively and from different perspectives. “HKU would now prefer recruiting young scholars to renowned professors, as the former would bring new insights to the institutions, though they might not be able to upgrade our university rankings immediately,” added Tsui.

Complaints about too many non-local students

Nowadays, a large number of non-local students have been recruited in the local graduate schools, and most of them come from mainland China. In this connection, the opportunity of local students being admitted to the graduate schools would likely be minimized. Fung wondered if the proportion of non-local postgraduate students should be restricted, so that the local students could have sufficient access to the education resources? Tsui thought that the undergraduate program should aim at offering a multi-skilled training, while postgraduate program should provide a professional training. And there were not too many local students applying for local postgraduate programs, and those interested in research tended to study abroad. This would also be the same as what the students from mainland China thought, to study abroad and therefore come to Hong Kong. He further justified that the exchanges between local students and mainland students would bring a positive impact in the local research, and therefore no restriction should be set concerning the ratio of non-local students.

Moreover, Fung was also concerned with the over expansion of the self-financing sub-degree programs, which has led to varied program quality and the qualifications not being given due recognition, and that has affected the graduates’ further studies and employment. Tsui responded that our city would need people of different qualifications. Self-financing sub-degree program was offered with a good intention, but it should not be implemented as a top-up degree program. Tsui further encouraged those who were not admitted to the institutions to pursue their interested professional development, since times has changed and even those graduates could not find a job.

Academic Freedom Undermined

The academic freedom had been seriously undermined in a series of incidents which had happened in Hong Kong recently, and the situation is now very worrying. Fung wondered how the institutions should react to this situation. Tsui thought that academic standard should be defined by the individual departments of the institutions. For those scholars of HKU who had been criticized by mainland officers, Tsui also regarded it as kind of academic exchanges between scholars of Hong Kong and mainland officers, which however took place in the public sphere. About the Authority taking management of the Public Policy Research Funding Scheme away from scholars and gave it to the Central Policy Unit’s think tank, Tsui thought the Authority could do so as the Scheme was supported by Public Fund, but scholars should keep his impartiality and academic rigor when conducting research, and the result should be open to the public. Concerning the research funding which was distributed among those applicants impartially, Tsui thought that the funding should be granted on the basis of quality of the research projects. He further supplemented that the sector of local industry has seldom cooperated with the local education sector, and more collaboration could be explored in future so that more funding could be offered for the research.

Finally, Tsui said that he did not have any substantial plan to do in the future. What he missed most at the moment, was the supportive colleagues and the HKU community at large.