The President meets students on deep collaboration

Peter Ho

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The President of CityU, Professor H K Chang, together with the Deputy President and two vice-presidents, met with 17 student representatives, led by the Mr Kelvin Chan, President of the Students’ Union, this morning to exchange views on the issue of “deep collaboration” between CityU and the Hong Kong Polytechnic University (PolyU).

The 90-minute meeting was initiated by the President, who felt that the students needed to be informed by Senior Management of the latest developments on where the two institutions are heading, despite intense media coverage in the past few days.

“We (CityU and PolyU) have just taken the first step of a long journey,” Professor Chang told the students, and it is still very far from any final destination, be it more large-scale collaborations, or a full-blown merger. “There is no timetable, and we’ll take one step at a time. We have an open attitude; we’ll look into every opportunity and option with great care.” He said he is also committed to staff and student consultation, upon approaching some concrete “milestones” along the way.

Students in the meeting generally welcomed the idea of collaboration, or even a merger. They see a bigger institution with a better reputation (and a bigger alumni population) means better job prospects when they graduate. More than 60% of the 700 respondents in an informal on-line survey said they would “agree” to a merger. The poll was conducted by the Students Union within a day or two after the news first broke on 13 April.

Senior Management reiterates that initial collaborations between the two sides have just started, with a number of pilot areas identified for consideration. In the short term, both institutions are looking for new, joint programmes that reflect the academic strengths of both partners. A number of these programmes, if approved by the University Grants Committee (UGC) under its deep collaboration funding scheme, would be eligible for support. The UGC has only targeted 16 such programmes among the eight funded institutions in its first round of applications, which will close in June 2004. In 2003-04, CityU offers more than 100 programmes, thus the number of new, joint programmes is still small and to be regarded as pilots only.

Students, however, were also concerned, in the event of a merger, that their choices of programmes and courses would be limited. Some worried about the loss of academic staff because duplicated programmes will be eliminated. However, Senior Management explained that often this is  not the case, as the student number increases (or even doubles) and with a fixed staff-student ratio in place, the number of academic staff required to teach is likely to remain strong. Choice of programmes is likely to increase, as a bigger economy of scale finds better opportunities for both partners to offer new programmes and courses that can make bigger contributions to society that may not have been possible before.

In conclusion, Professor Chang reiterated that it is still too early to jump to any conclusion about where the two sides are heading, let alone set a concrete timetable. “I’ll say this is a voluntary process from both sides on equal footing,” he said. “It’s more apt to say we seek each other out. It is not that we are passively waiting to be courted.” He also mentioned that CityU is also talking with various universities on other collaborative opportunities. The most important thing for students and staff is having an “informed” opinion, instead of falling prey to rumour and conjecture.

 

 

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