Fusion. Crossover. Mix and Match. Melting pot.
These are the catchwords denoting the most prevalent trend of many trades and industries in the world — culinary art, fashion, design and the creative industries. The notion is to diminish the divides among geographical regions, disciplines, schools and cultures, capture the best in everything and re-channel them into something unique and novel.
Not surprisingly, the blueprint Professor Tony Chan, the new President at the helm of HKUST sets for the University, lends on this trend.
This uniquely cross-over fashion of University education that Prof Chan maps out for HKUST is not a bomb dropped out from nowhere — it is derived from Prof Chan’s extensive experiences as scholar and scientist in the U.S., the ties cemented with the tertiary education sector in Hong Kong over the years, plus the many encounters he has made with our students and staff members after taking his office.
A cross-over background
Maybe an initial digging into Prof Chan's background will provide some insight into this concept. Like many of us, Prof Chan was born in a traditional Chinese family. He received his primary and secondary education in Hong Kong. He pursued his undergraduate and post-graduate education in the U.S. and has since settled there. In between the years he has been zigzagging across the five continents for lectures, research projects, conferences and meetings. While Chinese, British and American infiuences are apparently evident on Prof Chan, it might be more appropriate to name him a global citizen.
Diversification of campus life
As the chief steering the course for HKUST, Prof Chan's first mission is to further extend the scope and variety of student activities — co-curricular and extra-curricular — for a fuller taste of the many specimens of life presented on University campuses.
Since his return to Hong Kong in September 2009, Prof Chan has been in touch with many youngsters in and outside the University, which has prompted him to revisit and revise the impression he holds for today's youngsters. He admits, "Through such contacts I am constantly making new discoveries on our students' talents, orientations and idiosyncrasies. I am most impressed with their bi-lingual abilities in presentation and communication. I also marvel at the enormous efforts they have put into running and participating in extra-curricular activities.
"An example of this is the dance performance our students hosted at HKUST's University Welcome Ceremony. The energy and passion radiated from the performance are almost palpable. When compared to students from overseas, our students might appear too examination biased. But they are in no way rigid or boring. The many dimensions of their perceptions, life and abilities unveiled through the activities really astounded me. Our staff and faculty members have been doing a brilliant job in helping them think out of the box, and to reach out beyond domains. We are already on the right track and this job of diversifying campus life and uncovering talents has to be continued with added impetus."
Prof Chan reiterates the unique advantage HKUST has as a science and technology based research university.
"Twenty years ago it would have been an impossible dream for us to set up a science and technology based research university in China. As at today a university as what we are running now is still a rarity in the country.
"We have made awe-inspiring achievements in the last two decades. Our 4 schools — Science, Engineering, Business and Management, and Humanities and Social Science, is each standing proudly on the hills of Clear Water Bay in their own right. Yet what I aim to achieve for HKUST is a crossover mode of educational development, a model that encapsulates the unique essence and competitive advantages of individual schools and the disciplines they represent.
"This is what I mean when I said to my colleagues in various occasions that we will be forging One HKUST," Prof Chan remarks.
Nurturing versatile all-rounders
"The way forward in the University's development is to build up a multi- disciplinary learning approach that draws out the best features in each of the disciplines — technology and science, business and management as well as social science and humanities. After all, what the world needs is versatile all-rounders. Our future leaders should not only be science and technology savvy, they have to be literate with knowledge that spans across a vast spectrum of disciplines. Our aim is not only to breed specialists. We need to groom future leaders.
"Through leveraging on HKUST's unique advantages, we would be able to groom versatile science and technology leaders and bring forth another level of economic and cultural development for Hong Kong. When boiled down to practice, it would mean reinforcing our multi-disciplinary programs, further strengthening our curriculum and enriching learning experience of students," Prof Chan says.
A melting pot of different infiuences
Fusion is the buzzword for the mission Prof Chan holds for HKUST. "Hong Kong as an international city has been benefiting enormously from the rise of Asia and in particular China. As a local university that stands at the crossroad where new and old merges and east meets west, we should capitalize on the situation by blending British practices with the American academic system, ground it with Chinese cultural elements and spice it up with global perspective."
In the recent years the planned 3-3-4 Curriculum Reform has been generating a lot of interest and discussion involving all sectors of the community. Without question, the Reform substance meant for senior secondary schools is inextricably linked to how universities should be run.
To Prof Chan, the Reform provides room for positive changes, "Over the years the soundness of the 4-year university program has been proven beyond dispute in many parts of the world. A big plus of the system is the flexibility allowed for academic pursuit and holistic student growth and development".
Attracting and retaining the best students
To Prof Chan, the key for us to sustain and survive the challenges posed by the 3-3-4 Curriculum Reform would be our capability to attract and retain good students. Our performance in this regard has already stood us in good stead. "I am amazed at the large numbers of top academically performing students at HKUST. As seen in this year’s congregation ceremony, many students graduated with an overall A, a valid proof of our academic excellence and our capability in breeding talents. Having said that, it would be important for us to further promote our undergraduate programs among secondary schools and their students to continuously draw in students of the highest caliber."
While Prof Chan has been in touch with the University community, he also sees the need for forging closer ties with secondary schools. He is anticipating opportunities whereby he could discuss and explore with school principals, teachers and parents the options available for students on university educations.
To stay or go away, that's the question
"Taking a degree program from an overseas university might not necessarily be the best choice for our cream students. It is far more important for them to base their decision on weighed personal needs and situations. The tertiary institutes in Hong Kong are now offering a much fuller array of undergraduate programs. When Asian countries and China are capturing the entire world’s attention with their economic miracles; when foreign students couldn’t wait to rush here for a bite of the oriental experiences, wouldn’t it be worthwhile for them to remain here — one of the most prosperous cities in Asia — and to experience and even be a part of the momentous growth of arguably the most glittering region in the world?
"The fact that we have already drawn some of the brightest talents from local international schools and the world — including the children of many expatriate faculty members — to study at HKUST, are all tell-tale signs of this booming trend. It also speaks unequivocally of the quality of our programs," Prof Chan notes at the end of the interview.
President Tony F Chan
Born in Hong Kong, Prof Tony Chan was the Dean of Science at UCLA and Assistant Director of the US National Science in charge of the Mathematical and Physical Sciences Directorate. Over the past decades, he has maintained frequent and close relationships with the tertiary education sector in Hong Kong, and has served at various local institutes since 1985 as visiting professor and external examiner, including the University of Hong Kong, the Chinese University of Hong Kong, Baptist University, and City University. Prof Chan attended the Salesian English School and Queen's College in Hong Kong before furthering his studies in the US. He received his BS and MS degrees in Engineering from the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) and his PhD in Computer Science from Stanford University. On September 1, 2009 he succeeded Prof Paul Chu as the third President of HKUST and was formally installed on November 13.