Staff stability and work quality
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At the end of my letter to you on 23 February on the funding scenarios for the higher education sector in 2005-08, I pledged: "Together with my senior colleagues, I'll strive to manage the process of budget reduction with priority on upholding the quality of the education we offer and maintaining the stability of our staff." I recently met with the newly elected officers of the Staff Association and reiterated to them our dual priorities.
Now let me elaborate on those two priorities. As a public university, our first and foremost priority must be to offer quality educational programmes to the Hong Kong community. Some argue that strong job security for staff is detrimental to maintaining educational quality. I agree. There are alternatives, however. There are cases in universities elsewhere in the world that opt for some trimming and growth in their staffing over time, and achieve remarkable success. Some football coaches, to borrow a sports analogy, will try to acquire better players when they take over a team, in hopes of improving its overall performance. Others, like the Yugoslav coach who led the Chinese national team into the World Cup 2002 finals, had no choice but to work with the existing players. Fully knowing that he could not possibly replace the Chinese with Brazilian players, the coach opted to provide the existing players with training to encourage them to improve.
There are staffing options but, my judgment of the situation in Hong Kong and CityU tells me, maintaining staff stability offers a solution with better results. My belief is based on my deep appreciation of how much improvement our staff has achieved in the past years. It is a source of strength for me to think that if we strive for individual improvement as well as group collaboration in a synergistic way, we can raise the already high quality of our educational programmes several notches more. I believe our staff has an invaluable quality -- a self-driven quest for improvement.
Having said this, however, I also wish to point out that continuous improvement is needed. I hope the following examples can be appreciated in the spirit they are intended, rather than literally.
For academic staff, keeping themselves updated in their own field of study is, of course, absolutely essential to maintaining the quality of the programmes and courses they teach. There is more, however. They have to continue to improve their communication with students and co-workers and to show empathy towards whatever difficulties their students may encounter in learning. We have to show we care.
As we are trying to build deeper collaboration with mainland partners, our staff would benefit from a greater working knowledge of Putonghua, simplified Chinese characters and good written Chinese. In a larger context, our work would also benefit enormously if our staff knew more about the culture, history, social life, and, in particular, the educational system on the mainland. All these require a spirit of continuous improvement and lifelong learning.
Knowledge of mainland China and the Chinese language and culture must be matched with an equal enthusiasm towards understanding the world beyond China. Our staff should be able, at least, to communicate clearly and effectively in English, both orally and in writing. While our staff now are, by and large, bilingual, I can still see the need for some improvement in some quarters. I often read our internal memos with some amusement. Some of our colleagues appear to use archaic words and convoluted sentence structure. Their writing appears to have been lifted from government memos of the colonial days. I think terse and vigorous writing is the best way to communicate ideas. Good writing needs commitment and a lot of practice.
All of these will require a calm and supportive environment for staff to work in and strive for professional development. I intend to do my best to nurture an intellectual ambiance and positive work environment at CityU. As long as our budget situation allows us that stability, I will try my best to employ the option that I have just suggested to improve the overall output of this university.
Do I have confidence in our achieving the dual priorities -- to uphold the quality of our educational programmes and to maintain staff stability? The answer is 'yes' because it comes from my past experience and observation. It would be a more resounding affirmative if you, as my colleagues, resolve to help me achieve these results. I'll ask the heads of departments and deans to come up with specific ways and means to help staff improve.
H K Chang
President and University Professor