Retaining and recruiting talent tops Acting President Professor Richard Ho’s priority list

Shirley Lam

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Professor Richard Ho Yan-ki has spent the past month or so since being formally appointed as Acting President of City University of Hong Kong (CityU) listening to the concerns voiced by faculty and school deans, department heads and professors in order to have a complete picture of CityU today and identify issues that need to be addressed.

Professor Ho found time in his packed schedule to talk to CityU NewsCentre about his plans and vision for the future development of the University.


When you were appointed as Acting President, you said you felt both honoured and nervous. After almost two months in office, how would you describe your feelings now?

I still feel very much honoured, but I am no longer nervous. Shortly after I took office on 1 May, I started to meet with faculty and school deans, heads and professors from various departments, and colleagues from some administrative offices to learn about their wishes and problems they encounter at work. Now I have a better handle of the situation.


I have talked to colleagues about my priority list for the University, telling them what items I will start and complete within my term of office, what items I will initiate planning and let the new President move them forward. As for the deep-rooted problems, I will convey colleagues’ views to the new President.


What goals are possible to achieve in the coming months?

To become a university of excellence, talent is of the utmost importance, so my priority over the coming months will be to nurture our younger professors to become leaders and attract quality new staff.


For this to be possible, we must have a fair and transparent working environment and maintain smooth communication.


In order to achieve this goal, we need to review existing remuneration packages to ensure that they are up to date and flexible. According to some estimates, the higher education sector in Hong Kong will need to recruit nearly 1,000 staff in the near future, so competition for talent will be inevitable. CityU must take the initiative to review the situation and make us more competitive in attracting fresh blood and retaining existing staff. In fact, we will be starting a recruitment drive in anticipation of the new four-year curriculum, so we have to review the remuneration packages within the next few months.


Another problem that I hope to solve during my tenure is the lack of space on campus. We must provide newly-recruited professors with a sufficient and comfortable area to conduct research and perform other duties. Some solutions, such as renting offices in Grand Century Place in Mongkok and redeploying some offices in the United Centre in Admiralty, will help encourage colleagues in the faculties, schools and departments to recruit staff.


What longer-term goals do you have in mind?

While I was Vice-President (Undergraduate Education), I had worked with faculties, schools and departments to project a unified image for CityU which we called “From Student to Professional”, meaning our University aims to train students to be professionals. The aim of this campaign is to make CityU more appealing to prospective students. The next step is to work on promoting the overall CityU image. Some colleagues agree with me that a university is not just a place for learning and for preparing students for their professional careers, but also a place where professors and students can realize their dreams.


As a professor, I hope CityU graduates will do more than just fulfilling their respective duties in their work. My wish is that they will walk that extra mile and give full play to their creativity and adaptability, contributing their professional expertise to other industries and creating synergy across disciplines and industries in the world of tomorrow. This integration ability is important for facing challenges in future.


I hope CityU can project an image that our graduates have a strong “creative adaptability”; that is, they are highly adaptive and highly creative. We have plenty of role models among our alumni who have made positive contributions through their respective jobs and risen to positions of leadership, giving full play to their creativity and adaptability.


With reference to experiences in universities worldwide, we cannot expect to consolidate this drive for a fresh image within just a few months. But I can initiate discussions and draw up plans for the new President to push forward.


Your idea fits well with the new four-year undergraduate curriculum. How, then, are the preparations for the coming transition progressing?

Last year we submitted a proposal for a four-year undergraduate curriculum to the University Grants Committee in which we suggested a design of five “constellations of study areas”. In the design, each major discipline is likened to a fixed star, around which a number of planets circle.


Our aim is to build a platform on which faculties, departments, and programmes can cooperate and synergize. Such a grouping will be a major strength for CityU. Our University possesses components of such a grouping - business, creative media, engineering, law, sciences, humanities and social sciences. In terms of each single component, CityU may not be a match for some of the other universities in Hong Kong, but when joined, they create an efficacious synergy and possibly take CityU up another level.


I hope colleagues will understand that the world tomorrow will be an all-dimensional composition, much beyond today’s narrow fields of specialization.


We hope to start experimenting with the design of the five constellations in 2009 by launching dual majors and major-plus-minors. In Semester B 2007-08, we will start experimenting with general education courses.


How would you encourage colleagues to make a joint effort towards reaching these goals?

The forthcoming four-year undergraduate curriculum will be an opportunity for CityU to take a significant leap forward in its development. The Government is pleased with CityU’s four year curriculum proposal and has allocated funds for our construction projects and has shown support for our proposals to build new student residences. Our alumni have high expectations of CityU, as have parents who entrust the education of their children with us. Upon CityU’s shoulders rest heavy responsibilities and ahead of us lay many challenges.


If we can integrate our diversified components and nurture talented students who are strong in creativity and adaptability, we will witness this major leap forward in our development. This is why our work over the coming months will have a long-term impact on CityU’s growth over the next six to seven years. I hope all colleagues will work hand-in-hand with me to make it a success.


As shown by past experience, CityU staff and students have always been highly cooperative when faced with challenges, and I am convinced that we shall remain so this time round. So long as we unite our efforts, we can grasp the opportunity to bring CityU to an even higher level.


I fully understand that colleagues have wishes that need attention and we will appropriately review remuneration packages, but I also hope colleagues understand that our greatest rewards lie in nurturing students who share our dreams and attracting new colleagues who will face the challenges with us. Let us put our best foot forward, hand-in-hand, and bring CityU to a great success.


Professor Ho, as we know, diverse opinions typify a university. How would you try to persuade those who think differently to work towards a common goal?

It is crucial to stay transparent and maintain open lines of communication. I will explain to my colleagues what is feasible and what is not. I believe my colleagues, who are reasonable, will understand this.


Even when colleagues fail to accept emotionally what I consider to be an important and good piece of policy, I will still consider their wishes and feelings. Each time when a policy is put forward, we will solicit views at forums and through in-depth consultations, consider colleagues’ feelings under different situations and take appropriate measures to modify plans accordingly.


As you point out, the world is changing fast. What do you suggest CityU and its staff need to do when planning for future challenges?

In making policies, we need to foresee societal needs, the future development of higher education and the challenges that we will face. Of course, the future is full of uncertainty, and in promoting a new policy we have to take risks. While we dare to venture, we must be able to evaluate the pros and cons, manage risks with a scientific mind and mitigate losses.


So, we must be flexible and innovative. So must our academic and administrative departments. The transition towards a four-year undergraduate curriculum will necessitate great changes, and because our students will hail from all corners of the land, our academic structure must be adaptable to meet the ever-changing needs of globalization. Our administrative structure is currently functioning smoothly, but it is too localized and could become more internationalized.


I understand that these changes will have a great impact and that changes take time to complete. My colleagues at CityU, I hope, can learn from other colleges and universities, drawing upon their experiences in human resources management, campus development, student recruitment, course selection and enquiries systems, out-of-class learning environment, career counselling, student residence management and congregation matters. We should never be complacent about our achievements.


The world can be very different in the blink of an eye; we must have fresh ideas in order to adapt. We must let go the past and embrace the future. We work hard not only for today’s students but also for tomorrow’s. I will work with my colleagues, including those in management, to promote these changes and encourage younger, middle-level colleagues to take part, because they are the next generation of leadership.


A last question: Professor Ho, do you have any plan to upgrade our students’ learning experiences?

In this respect, we need to work with our professors. Most importantly, we need to think of fresh ways to motivate students. First, we can devise some unconventional ways to make them interested in learning languages in order to raise their language proficiency. We must make our students understand that language is part of their life-style, not a requirement in their studies. Then they will come to enjoy the pleasure of learning.


Second, I hope we can integrate internship activities with career development. When I was Vice-President (Undergraduate Education), I put in resources to promote internship programmes, but in the past we lacked concerted efforts to work towards the same direction.


I hope to sharpen links between internship programmes and career development, inspiring students to move beyond landing a job to embrace life after graduation. We will make this drive a key feature of education at CityU.


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