The planned introduction of four-year undergraduate courses at local universities has been warmly received and generated keen anticipation within the education sector. The additional year of tertiary-level learning is expected to equip future students more completely for the rapid changes in society and the intense competition they can expect to face.
Edward Chen, president of Lingnan University explains, "The focus of the education reforms is on the enrichment of course content rather than the duration." As such, he confirms that the university will continue to develop new courses and broaden the curriculum in order to strengthen liberal arts education for the all-round development of students.
Professor Chen believes that other local universities will also reinforce cross-disciplinary programmes which have growing importance in Hong Kong's evolving knowledge economy. "Universities are reviewing their curriculums and will launch more interdisciplinary and even double degrees," he says.
He stresses that tertiary-level education can no longer focus only on specialist or technical subjects. It must also include the development of personal abilities to help students adapt to the new economy and the challenges it will bring.
This means that overseas exchanges, field trips and internships at local and international organisations are now given more emphasis in the university's planning. "Another of our priorities is to build more hostels as we aim to allow 90 percent of students to live on campus," says Professor Chen. "Part of a liberal arts education is the development of the whole person, and students can learn how to interact and co-operate with others when staying in hostels."
Although the four-year system is expected to provide substantial benefits for students, it will nevertheless create a heavier financial burden for the universities. With the possibility of less government funding, one foreseeable result is that fees will increase from HK$42,100 to $50,000 per year when the new system begins.
"While the government is planning a drastic cut in the recurrent subsidies for higher education, they may be more generous in one-time investments and the provision of financial aid for the establishment of new facilities," says Professor Chen.
He also notes that the proposed reforms in secondary-level education should be welcomed, believing there have been too many subjects and an emphasis on specialising too soon. "Subjects such as sociology, business management and accounting are unnecessary in secondary schools," he says. "Besides, the division of arts and sciences is made too early."
In preparation for higher education, the secondary school curriculum should give students a solid platform for learning by covering a range of disciplines in an integrated manner. "This is essential for the development of creativity, analytical ability and critical thinking," says Professor Chen. "It can help young people to have a better understanding of themselves, society, culture and technology, as well as the global environment."
The integrated curriculum and its implementation could prove to be a challenge for teachers. Classroom exchanges will have to be more interactive and students may have to be taught how to learn in a new way. "It has to be student-targeted," adds Professor Chen. "Different materials and ways of teaching are required, depending on the abilities of individual students."