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College of Liberal Arts and Social Sciences – Enriching the Humanities in the City

Prof Xiaowei Zang, Dean of CLASS

The Dean of CLASS and representatives of the seven departments. From left to right:
Dr Marko SKORIC, Prof LI Hsiao-ti, Prof Ray FORREST, Prof CHAN Hon S., Prof Xiaowei ZANG, Dr LEE Po-lun Peppina, Prof LO Tit-wing, Dr Toby James CARROLL.

The College of Liberal Arts and Social Sciences (CLASS) at CityU is unique among its counterparts at other local universities. As the name suggests, the College combines liberal arts and social sciences. Its objective is to conduct close interdisciplinary collaboration in teaching and research, and its accomplishments are well recognised.

The College has adopted a rather dynamic approach in both teaching and research, and has been building a strong presence in Hong Kong. For example, in RAE 2014, a local assessment exercise on academic research, the research quality of the College was favourably assessed. We interviewed Professor Xiaowei ZANG, Dean of the College, to learn about various aspects of CLASS. Professor Zang also told us how the College and its students have responded to globalisation.

CLASS is home to seven departments, namely Applied Social Sciences (SS); Asian and International Studies (AIS); Chinese and History (CAH); English (EN); Linguistics and Translation (LT); Media and Communication (COM); and Public Policy (POL). Applied Social Sciences is the oldest among the seven departments, having been established when CityU opened in 1984. Chinese and History, founded last year, is the youngest. While history is one of the most fundamental subjects in tertiary studies, many students in Hong Kong have limited knowledge of history. Emperor Taizong of the Tang dynasty once said, "History works as a mirror that reflects prosperity and decline." Studying history enables students to understand the past and prepare for the future.

The departments of CLASS

Media and Communication is a very popular department of CLASS. In addition to being the number one option in many undergraduate applications, the department's master's programmes also register a high application-admission rate. The two research assessment exercises (RAE) conducted among Hong Kong universities in 2006 and 2014 show that Department of Media and Communication ranks first among its peers. In recent years, the department has also performed remarkably in CityU's Performance-based Pay Review.

University rankings are a concern of the public, and the departments of CLASS are doing quite well in this aspect. For example, the departments of Asian and International Studies and English have both obtained high ranks internationally. The discipline of Linguistics, in particular, jumped from 22nd to 18th in the Quacquarelli-Symonds World University Rankings last year. Although ranking is a noteworthy indicator, the College is much more concerned with delivering quality teaching and research and contributing to the society. Professor Zang believes that, as long as the College does a good job, good rankings and reputation.

Emphasis on teaching, discovery & application

CLASS places immense importance on students' education. Not only are funding and teaching resources heavily concentrated in this area, but substantial resources are also invested to align the College even more closely with global standards. Professor Zang believes that Applied Social Sciences at CLASS is a leader in teaching excellence in higher education in Hong Kong. On top of transmitting theoretical foundations, department professors incorporate real-life examples into teaching, combining theory with practice. In the past two consecutive years, two educators from the department have received the University Grant Committee (UGC) Teaching Award – a distinguished and unique accomplishment among local universities.

Of students' future development, the dean says that the College is concerned not only about career options, but also students' growth in the larger contexts, i.e., Hong Kong, the Chinese mainland and the rest of the world. At the same time, students should give in return to society with what they have learnt. In response, the College has organised and supported a number of events such as the City-Youth Empowerment Project by Applied Social Sciences and Project Flame by Public Policy. These initiatives connect teaching, research and the community to enhance students' sense of citizenship.

The teaching focus of CLASS, which closely aligns with CityU's Discovery-enriched Curriculum (DEC), should not go unmentioned. To cite an example, the College hosted the DEC competition for both undergraduates and postgraduates to inspire students to take what they have learnt from the classroom further into research and application. Both the President and the Provost were invited to the grand award presentation ceremony of the competition in mid-May. Their presence did not only serve as an encouragement to all awardees, but also helped enhance students' involvement in and their awareness of the event. This will be particularly significant in attracting stronger participation in similar events in future.

The cultural strengths of a metropolis

It is not uncommon to think that Hong Kong's development is skewed towards business and finance, with little discussion on the arts and social sciences. According to Professor Zang, this is exactly why an economy as dependent on the financial, retail and service sectors as Hong Kong needs a college like CLASS. A world-class metropolitan centre cannot rely solely on the financial and trade industries; on the other hand, it is the cultural strengths of a city that constitute a major criterion in considerations of its cosmopolitan status. This calls for nurturing students' knowledge in the liberal arts and social sciences; the key progress indicators are the level of involvement, the sense of responsibility and the civic devotion of citizens. Hong Kong's reliance on finances, therefore, highlights the importance of the College.

Some students might worry about their prospects upon graduation from an arts and social sciences college. However, the dean hopes that students will choose to study what they are interested in as a complete personal choice. He comments that students need not be over-anxious about future employment. A university-wide survey reveals that over 97 per cent of CLASS graduates have secured a job within six months after graduation. He also points out that when students find their first jobs, their university specialism becomes less important as companies are usually more concerned with their employees' overall performance in the workplace than their past academic achievements.As long as students acquire the best knowledge and skills at school, they will be able to find a job.

Connecting with Mainland China

Professor Zang further shared that, under the mega trend of globalisation, the importance of Hong Kong–Mainland co-operation should not be overlooked. In this respect, Hong Kong enjoys a great advantage over Singapore. This is particularly valid for students of CLASS because their biggest edge in their curriculum is the mainland China element. In addition, they have also the better access to work and internship opportunities on the Mainland. CLASS endeavours to create more opportunities in teaching and research with the Mainland. For instance, the College recently entered into agreements with major mainland universities, including Fudan University, Zhejiang University, Renmin University of China, Nanjing University, etc., to jointly nurture postgraduate students. As another example, a video on anti-corruption in Hong Kong, produced by Department of Media and Communication, was aired in the Mainland recently. The video attracted a lot of attention in China. Besides, CLASS also organises study trips to China for students to grow more familiar with the Chinese context. All these are beneficial for students, whether they work in Hong Kong or in the Mainland in future.

As a world-class metropolitan city, Hong Kong has much to offer as the Mainland's institutional benchmark, helping in the social development of the Mainland. For example, universities in Hong Kong can significantly improves their international profiles and performance when university presidents in Hong Kong are selected through open international recruitment. This recruitment mechanism has yet to be adopted in China. There are certain areas in which the Mainland can yet learn from Hong Kong.

Professor Zang stresses that CLASS will continue to focus on its most fundamental work to teach its students well and to elevate the profile of its various departments in Hong Kong. The College will also strive for research excellence and to build public awareness of the College at the community level. At the same time, CLASS will collaborate more closely with Mainland institutes in providing students with more opportunities for external exchange and language learning, to prepare students well for their future.