CLASS Research Excellence

ProfessorRichard Walker
Associate Dean
(Research and Postgraduate Studies)

The College of Liberal Arts and Social Sciences (CLASS) has embraced CityU's transformation into a research-intensive institution. Over the past seven years, the College has garnered local, as well as international, recognition for its outstanding research projects. In line with the overall direction of the University, Professor Richard WALKER, Associate Dean (Research and Postgraduate Studies), believes the College has made substantive changes in its culture, outlook and aspirations.

“Given the shift in gear to a research-intensive university and the adoption of a four-year undergraduate curriculum we have been able to attract good-quality young faculty members across the range of subjects,” Walker says. “Many were engaged in post-doctoral work at good universities around the world. And, of course, all members of the faculty aspire to get published in highly-regarded journals.”

All at CLASS are united in the common pursuit of research excellence. Their various projects and goals are communicated via the “College Research Excellence Statement”. Under the institution-wide annual performance assessment, each department sets out details of its research output, achievements, targets and expectations. Where appropriate, these are measured by citations, research grants and research impact.

“We have been looking to raise expectations and support the efforts of faculty members to write more books and publish academic papers in good journals,” Walker says. Results have also been seen in the higher success rate in obtaining support from the General Research Fund (GRF) and Early Career Scheme (ECS) Fund. The College has also made a name for itself in public policy research, and has been awarded a number of Public Policy Research (PPR) funding in the past few years. Among the three Strategic Public Policy Research (SPPR) projects awarded in 2016- 17, Professor LI Chelan Linda has been awarded HK$3.4 million for her project entitled “Hong Kong Professional Services in the Co-Evolving Belt-Road Initiative: Innovative Agency for Sustainable Development”.

To take things forward, research groups and clusters have been formed in most departments to enhance collaboration. In addition, leading outside scholars are regularly invited to give talks, with a view to creating an interactive culture and exploring innovative ideas.

“We have an 'apprenticeship' scheme in which senior professors act as mentors for new faculty members, helping them set research objectives and write grant applications,” Walker says. “The University has also implemented the substantiation track system whereby individual research and service portfolios will be reviewed externally six years after someone joins us. When their performance meets the expected standard, it's likely that they will get substantiation.”

Other developments are taking shape in line with the new direction in the forward-looking Research Assessment Exercise.

“We now look at the “impact” of our research on the community and society at large,” Walker says. “Through impact, we are applying our findings to make changes in society in Hong Kong and abroad. This is a challenge and step-change in the way we think about our projects.”

For instance, faculty members have conducted research and developed practical strategies to address issues such as school bullying. This is a win-win situation because it leads to highly cited works and the ideas put forward can help achieve positive change in schools. Besides that, the Discovery-enriched Curriculum (DEC) challenges every student to look at existing problems in new ways when studying at CityU.

“For their final-year projects, undergraduates have the chance to collaborate with professors on different topics,” Walker says. “We also have a number of research labs that expose students to cutting-edge research projects through internships.”

To illustrate these initiatives, three faculty members were asked to talk about the motivation behind their projects and discuss why research, teaching and knowledge transfer go hand in hand and, ideally, have a wide-ranging impact.

CLASS's faculty members with high success rate in GRF/ ECS in the past five years

Principal Investigator Department No. of successful GRF/ ECS in past five years
Dr CHAN Hok-yin Chinese and History 4
Dr FUNG Lai-chu Annis Applied Social Sciences 3
Dr LIN Fen Jennifer Media and Communication 3
Dr YU Xiaonan Nancy Applied Social Sciences 3

List of awarded PPR/SPPR (CLASS)

Year Principal Investigator Department Project Title Funding (HK$)
2017-18 Dr LIU Suk-ching Elaine Applied Social Sciences Demographic and Social Indicators of Youth Volunteering in Hong Kong 842,950
2016-17 Prof LI Chelan Linda Public Policy Hong Kong Professional Services in the Co-Evolving Belt-Road Initiative: Innovative Agency for Sustainable Development 3,400,000
2016-17 Prof Richard Mark WALKER Public Policy The 'Citizen Satisfaction Assessment Tool': Applying Expectancy Disconfirmation Theory to Public Services in Hong Kong 961,400
2016-17 Dr YE Shengquan Sam Applied Social Sciences An Experimental Study of National Identity Among Hong Kong Youth 415,150
2015-16 Dr CHEUNG Chau-kiu Jacky Applied Social Sciences Discontinuing Youth's Violent Involvements with Social Capital Development 817,420
2015-16 Prof Ray FORREST Public Policy Tenant Purchase, Assisted Home Ownership and Social and Residential Mobility 657,296
2015-16 Dr LEUNG Lai-ching Applied Social Sciences Making Policy for Child Care in Hong Kong 476,123
2015-16 Prof LI Chelan Linda Public Policy Sustainability and Social Mobility in Professional Services: A Case Study of Accounting Profession in Hong Kong 548,775.4
2015-16 Dr Miguel Angel MARTINEZ LOPEZ Public Policy How to Improve Participatory Mechanisms in The Processes of Urban Redevelopment: The Case of Kowloon East (Hong Kong) 498,251.3
2015-16 Dr YAU Yung Simon Public Policy Exploration and Evaluation of Policy Options for Tackling the Illegal Subdivided Unit Problem in Hong Kong 212,175
2014-15 Dr CHAN Ho-yan Clara Linguistics and Translation The Drafting Policy for Hong Kong's Bilingual Legislation: A Communicative Approach 318,036.6
2014-15 Prof Richard Mark WALKER Public Policy Performance Information Use: Experiments on Performance Dimensions, Communication and Data Sources in Education and Solid Waste Recycling 597,264

Professor Gong Ting, Professor of Political Science, Department of Public Policy

Professor Gong Ting, Professor of Political Science
Department of Public Policy

Corruption has been a deeply-rooted problem challenging many societies, and it fascinates Professor GONG Ting from both practical and theoretical perspectives.

"All governments around the world fight corruption, but only a few anti-corruption agencies (ACAs), such as the ones in Hong Kong and Singapore, have had notable successes. My interest is to find why some ACAs succeeded while others failed."

From a theoretical viewpoint, she notes, the concept of corruption is highly complex. Corruption spreads over all areas of human society and its modes and characteristics are changing. Therefore, it is important to look at corruption from different angles and understand how people may define it differently.

"I also study the consequences of corruption and the different methods to control it. Some governments use top-down approaches. We advocate values-based strategies to fight corruption." This sheds light on the issue, widely discussed in the academic literature, of what constitutes success factors in corruption prevention.

As a scholar, Gong has developed the concepts of "cash corruption" and "capital corruption" to characterise the changing patterns of official misconduct. Her recent research projects include a study of public perceptions of corruption as well as Hong Kong's experience in building a clean society. Her research team conducted a survey in Hong Kong recently to examine people's (in) tolerance of corruption, their readiness to report suspected cases and their confidence in government efforts to combat corruption. The projects have also involved comparative analyses of corruption and anti-corruption practices in Hong Kong, mainland China and Taiwan.

Gong works closely with the Independent Commission against Corruption (ICAC) in Hong Kong and has completed several research consultancy projects in tandem with Professor Ian SCOTT. They analyse the factors that have made the ICAC a successful model of corruption prevention and propose recommendations, which may be of considerable interest to anti-corruption agencies in other regions.

Gong has published extensively in refereed political science and public administration journals, many of which are SSCI-indexed and top-ranking. Since joining CityU in 2008, she has co-authored or co-edited three books including a forthcoming one to be published next year. An article which she co-authored with her former PhD student on the prevailing patterns of corruption in mainland China was published in the leading journal Sociological Review in mainland China and has been downloaded over 8,500 times.

Gong's students benefit from her insights and, when teaching, she aims to cultivate critical thinking.

"In my students' papers, I want to see logical thinking and in-depth analysis," she says. "They don't look at corruption simply as a phenomenon. They should also criticise misperceptions and misunderstandings about corruption."

In her view, the tasks of research, knowledge transfer and teaching are complementary and enhance one another.

"My research projects inform the design of my courses," says Gong, who is a member of the Advisory Committee for the Party Discipline Inspection Commission of Guangdong Province making suggestions on policy priorities. "For example, in my course on research design for PhD students, I use corruption as an example because it is a complex social issue. Scholars in social research should challenge themselves by tackling difficult problems in society such as corruption. Also, collaboration between government departments and NGOs is vital. I hope my research findings and recommendations can help them formulate good strategies and develop effective policies."

Professor Gong Ting is the author of the first English book-length study of China's corruption, The Politics of Corruption in Contemporary China: An Analysis of Policy Outcomes. Her most recent book (co-edited with Ian Scott), Routledge Handbook of Corruption in Asia, was published by Routledge (UK) in 2017. She has also published extensively in political science and public administration journals. She was the recipient of grants and awards from the University Grants Committee of Hong Kong (UGC), The Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC), J. William Fulbright Foundation, National Endowment for the Humanities in the United States, American Political Science Association, and American Association of University Women.

Dr Bonnie Chow Wing-yin, Associate Professor, Department of Applied Social Sciences

Dr Bonnie Chow Wing-yin
Associate Professor, Department of Applied Social Sciences

A recipient in 2015 of the CLASS "New Researcher Award", Dr Bonnie CHOW is the principal investigator for a project which won funding of HK$1.41 million from the Hong Kong Quality Education Fund. Its title is "Catering to the needs of diverse learners using interactive dialogue and creative literacy activities in English language education". For another project funded by the RGC Collaborative Research Fund to the tune of HK$7.51 million, she is the co-investigator. That one is on "Reading development in Chinese and in English: genetic and neuroscience correlates".

These projects resulted from her keen interest in studying factors affecting children's development. Some youngsters don't find it easy to learn languages at kindergarten and junior primary school. And, in general, Hong Kong children face more challenges in this respect than those countries like Britain, because Chinese characters are complex and Cantonese is a spoken dialect.

"Learning English is tough for some because they do not live in an English-speaking environment," Chow says. "And some kids have learning disabilities such as dyslexia."

Chow's collaborative project has a more academic focus and aims to identify cognitive, environmental and genetic elements.

In the project funded by the RGC, which is among the few social science projects to receive support from the Collaborative Research Fund, Chow has worked with academics from other local universities and overseas universities. Their efforts aim to identify the cognitive, neuroscience and genetic factors affecting Hong Kong children's learning of English and Chinese.

"In this cross-disciplinary project, I focus on the psychological side and work with biochemistry and genetics scholars," Chow says. "Research teams are important because academics with expertise in different fields can complement each other. For instance, I obtain findings about the cognitive factors, and the relative contributions of the genetic and environmental factors. Experts in biochemistry and genetics locate genetic factors, and our integrated findings provide a more comprehensive view of the subject."

"By integrating these, we will be able to identify the more crucial factors and then extend our findings into more applied research," she says.

Another project has looked at the importance of teaching methods used by teachers and which can best improve children's learning. Along the way, methods were developed to stimulate pupils' interest in learning English through interactive dialogues and creative activities in primary school classrooms.

"For instance, I encourage teachers to do dialogic reading together with the children, to ask questions and give feedback." Chow says. "This lets kids improve their language and reading abilities through teacher-pupil interactions. A unique feature is that teachers only need to add the dialogic reading and innovative class activities to their existing teaching materials. The project also looks at how these methods can help children with varying levels of ability."

In addition to teaching methods and materials, her research has looked at the effectiveness of different methods in enhancing language acquisition and increasing children's interest in learning which has positive knock-on effects.

Dr Bonnie Chow was the recipient of the CLASS "New Researcher Award 2015". Starting from 2015, she has been the Associate Editor of Journal of Research in Reading and Consulting Editor of Child Development.

Professor Jonathan Zhu, Chair Professor of Computational Social Science, Department of Media and Communication

Professor Jonathan Zhu is Chair Professor of Computa onal Social Science of the Department of Media and Communica on and Founding Director of Web Mining Lab. He is the Editorial Board member of Communica on Research and also the Editorial Advisory Board member of Asian Journal of Communica on.

The Department of Media and Communication was ranked number one by Research Assessment Exercise (RAE) in 2006 and 2014. So far, it is the only non-science and engineering department at CityU to earn the top ranking.

"CityU is research-oriented and provides us with strong support," says Professor Jonathan ZHU. "Our department has built a research culture by holding regular seminars and inviting visiting scholars to give talks. We also have stringent recruitment requirements, and many of our faculty members were well-established in the field before joining CityU."

He adds that the quality of research projects has been enhanced by the large number of outstanding PhD students, who are drawn to CityU by the department's reputation.

"The PhD students help energise the research efforts in our department and enable us to take on more challenging projects," Zhu says. "Because we emphasise rigorous methodology training for them, they have many papers published in leading journals."

He notes that knowledge creation and curiosity drive his own research efforts. Already an established scholar on traditional media research in the US, he came to CityU in late 1990s to start a new line of research on internet and social media. For instance, he created the department's Web Mining Lab as an interdisciplinary research unit focused on computational social science research.

"We set up the lab, which was unusual for social science, in 2008 to house post-doctoral scholars and train PhD students." Zhu says. "We have studied fundamental phenomena underlying social media. In doing so, we realised the need to create such a structure for interdisciplinary scholars and PhD students to interact and collaborate." More than a dozen post-doctoral scholars from a wide range of disciplines have visited the lab on a short- or long-term basis. A similar number of PhD students have graduated from the lab, taking faculty positions at leading universities in the US, Hong Kong, mainland China and elsewhere or working as data scientists at global internet firms.

"We integrate computational and social science methods as the primary tools," Zhu says. "They are like bridges to help us collaborate with computer scientists, physicists, and scholars of engineering, medicine and management. Our collaboration usually starts with issues emerge from social science research practice. For example, sampling an online network involves different challenges where classic sampling methods do not apply. Through our collaboration with specialists from different fields, we have made some progresses on the problem."

"We carry out research through weekly Skype meetings," he says. "Many of our PhD students and post-doctoral visitors, even after they have graduated and live overseas, keep attending the meetings. They keep doing so because this is a place they share cutting-edge works."

Professor Jonathan Zhu is Chair Professor of Computational Social Science of the Department of Media and Communication and Founding Director of Web Mining Lab. He is the Editorial Board member of Communication Research and also the Editorial Advisory Board member of Asian Journal of Communication.