Chapter Four

Challenges, Opportunities and Gaps in the Current Planning Environment

Located in the heart of Hong Kong, CityU has gained a well-earned reputation as an innovative hub for research and professional education and for addressing global issues and empowering positive change. Our University’s unique features include its multinational faculty and student body and its dynamism, energy and boldness in tackling difficult problems under pressure. Our adaptability, looking outward and thinking beyond conventional boundaries was well illustrated when we promptly prepared and introduced real-time online learning, i.e. CityU-Learning, on a campus-wide scale to continue delivering teaching during the coronavirus epidemic in 2020. We broke records when the initiative went online on 7 February 2020 with more than 2,000 students attending online classes at the same time at each session on that day.

The past five years have witnessed important changes around the world, in the mindsets of Generation Z and in the skills required for the labour market of the future, opening spaces for disruptive innovations and for new players to enter the market. We fully appreciate the need to meet the challenges common to all world-class universities, arising from technological change, the globalisation of higher education, and the impact of COVID-19. In addition, we have to map out our own unique path, taking into account specific challenges and gaps in the current planning environment. By capitalising on our strengths and taking advantage of the opportunities available, we can define our priorities and set our strategic goals for successful and sustainable development.

Read More

4.1 Challenges to Higher Education

Universities in Hong Kong are now coming under more external scrutiny than ever to ensure public confidence in society’s investment. In 2019, the University Grants Committee (UGC) signed University Accountability Agreements (UAA) with all eight UGC-funded universities for the 2019–2022 triennium. In addition to setting out the duties and responsibilities associated with public funding for universities, the UAA contains performance indicators that the UGC will use for assessment. In the Research Assessment Exercise 2020, impact and environment were newly included in the assessment criteria, reflecting the government’s closer scrutiny of the cost-effectiveness and social relevance of research.

The challenge faced by universities in this area will require changes in culture, policy and processes. Examples of the positive impact of analytics on student recruitment and staff productivity are available but many universities are still lagging behind in effectively incorporating analytics into institutional operations. A culture of data-driven decision-making, informed by useful and reliable evidence, relies on a good data platform managed by in-house analytical talents who are familiar with the operations needed to carry out authentic assessments.

The demographic shift in Hong Kong caused by the low fertility rate has impacted the number of students entering higher education overall, resulting in a changed student profile. With the total number of publicly-funded university places remaining the same for a shrinking population of applicants, there has been a general drop in JUPAS entrance scores across the sector and, at the same time, more local students are being admitted from the non-JUPAS stream. In general, our incoming students are from Generation Z, a generation of digital natives in a truly globalised world. Their learning preferences, expectation of instantaneous responses, beliefs in the power of working collaboratively to solve world problems, views of success and career aspirations are different from those who teach them. Social media play a significant role in shaping their opinions and behaviour. They also have their own mind-set and interpretations of how society should be managed and operated. These changes in student profile require educators to redefine their role to facilitate students’ development as modern citizens in an interconnected world. Educators need to offer rich and relevant input with effective, engaging teaching methods to help develop students' resilience, adaptability, creativity, communication and collaboration skills, empathy and emotional intelligence. Above all, educators should provide students with inspiring role models to follow through supporting socially relevant scholarship, academic integrity and a commitment to teaching and learning. University's ideal graduate outcomes need to be refined to reflect the changed student profile.

Today’s higher education has seen a shift in teaching and educational trends due to the advancement of new technologies and new academic frameworks. Education reforms are called for in order to keep up with all of the new technological advancements and employment opportunities that are becoming available and to anticipate those that are predicted to arise. Renewing education to make it relevant to the workplace of tomorrow has become a necessity. In particular, with the proliferation of disruptive technologies that change how systems work, new jobs requiring new skills are created daily. The pandemic in 2020 demonstrated how the job market could have changed according to the circumstances. Future professionals need to be ready for lifelong learning to respond effectively to technological and workplace changes. Strengths in critical thinking and creative problem solving are therefore essential for success; both teachers’ role in education and the approaches to education adopted by universities need to be reviewed to enable them to prepare students for the changing workplace and for a fast-changing world.

Academic institutions have a primary mission of teaching, learning and scholarship and are not an appropriate place for resolving political differences or imposing ideologies. However, we can and should help students develop the skills needed to exchange opinions and address social and political issues as educated citizens who maintain positive relationships with the community. Universities have a duty to create and maintain an environment for students to grow as individuals, aspire to use their gifts, make new friends and think independently. Social developments and the pace of change in Hong Kong have reminded universities of the need to cultivate leadership, social entrepreneurship, empathy and respect for others among our students so as to help society deal with change constructively and effectively.

Information security is a major risk area for universities, being custodians of large amounts of digitised personal data. Universities need to constantly upgrade their resources to monitor these risks. IT infrastructure changes frequently; ensuring sound protection for data is a resource-intensive task requiring universities to update or replace obsolete systems and improve entry points that might be vulnerable. Staying vigilant against cyber threats is critical.

Since the Hong Kong government’s promotion in 2000 of its policy to increase the percentage of secondary school graduates entering further studies, there has been a drastic increase in the number of private degree providers and programmes. As of March 2020, there are 22 local degree-awarding higher education institutions. The government has also started to offer a subsidy to undergraduates pursuing full-time degrees in non-UGC-funded institutions from 2017/18.

The University is facing increasingly intense competition, both at the global and the local level, for the best faculty and students. We need to strengthen our global outreach to expand connections and collaboration with talent around the world; continuously enhance our research and learning environment to attract the best faculty, researchers and students; and streamline procedures through benchmarking against top global universities.

Universities in Hong Kong are facing consequential challenges from the damage to campus in November 2019 and the pandemic in 2020. The unfavourable environment since June 2019 has impacted not only our operations but also led to a reduction in different sources of income, on top of the costly repair bill resulting from the social unrest and the investment needed for improving campus safety and security. To operate effectively and to fulfil the role as a higher education provider after the crises, various university practices need to be reviewed including education goals, crisis management strategies, approaches to recruiting international students, mode of teaching delivery, admission and recruitment practices, outreach channels and support for graduate employment. In particular, strategies to monitor budgets, raise resources and donations for university advancement, and student activities will need to be reviewed.

The government regards cutting-edge cross-disciplinary training as a priority strategic development area for strengthening Hong Kong’s talent pool. Universities are encouraged to devise innovative and cross-disciplinary programmes that will benefit society. Support for research has been implemented through a huge increase in research funding. Universities’ development directions will need to align with those of the government in order to leverage this funding support.

Many world issues — such as ageing, data protection and climate change — require cross-disciplinary research to identify effective solutions. The University can leverage our existing strengths in various disciplines and utilise our already established collaboration platforms for multi-disciplinary research to ensure that we continue to contribute meaningfully to this ongoing and vital endeavour.

The development of the Guangdong–Hong Kong–Macao Greater Bay Area has opened up significant possibilities for all sectors. Both the Hong Kong government and the Greater Bay Area governments encourage universities in Hong Kong to offer education services in this rapidly developing zone. Operating a campus outside Hong Kong carries risks but will also create many positive opportunities, especially in areas of collaborative innovation by students and faculty. CityU was approached by most of the cities in the Greater Bay Area about collaboration possibilities. In the end, a collaboration agreement was signed with the Dongguan government in 2020.

With elevated strengths in research and in strategic areas important to society, more and more collaboration opportunities with top universities around the world are available to CityU. The University can leverage such collaborations for further advancement in terms of research capability for student development, thus enhancing the career prospects of our students, attracting high-quality faculty and undergraduate and postgraduate students and strengthening the connection between research and teaching.

Strategic space planning is ongoing to fully utilise the restricted space provision at the University. Construction projects of different scales are in progress to address the University’s development needs. One key example is the Jockey Club One Health Tower, which has successfully secured government approval for the relaxation of height restrictions to double the available academic facilities it can offer, and which is targeted for completion by 2023.

CityU needs to be unique in terms of the education it offers and its related strengths in specific research fields in order to become a leading university at a global level. The institutional practice of teaching by senior faculty provides an excellent stimulus for undergraduate students but needs to be comprehensively implemented. Undergraduates should be provided with fundamental courses from other disciplines, rather than generic courses, to support their major studies and widen their educational experience. To strengthen work-integrated education and better prepare students for the changing workplace, the University will need to consider promoting compulsory internships and work placements and embedding more career preparation elements within the curriculum. Curricular and co-curricular opportunities to help develop students' resilience, adaptability, empathy and positive relationships with the community should be strengthened.

CityU academics have performed well in competing for external research funding over past years but there is still room for improvement: more faculty should become research active and generate more external research funding in order to sustain an excellent research performance and contribute to the development and transfer of applicable knowledge. In particular, since our University champions translational research — that is, the interdisciplinary application of the findings of science and technology to promote human and planetary well-being — every effort should be made to encourage faculty to undertake such research and to continue to create institutional arrangements that will facilitate their doing so. Improving our knowledge transfer infrastructure and promotion is much needed.

To ensure a smooth succession plan to maintain our education and research excellence, strengthened measures to help develop our junior faculty should be adopted. The University can benchmark its provision against other top universities to maintain competitiveness in faculty and staff recruitment. With the continued monitoring of non-academic staff headcount, faculty members have undoubtedly experienced an increase in their administrative workload. To ameliorate this situation, improve output and enable faculty to make the best use of their talents, it is essential for the heads of academic units to streamline the division of labour and to ensure that administrative tasks are assigned in a fair and timely manner. More efficient space planning also needs to be implemented to facilitate faculty recruitment by providing a pleasant working environment.

Our proactive global recruitment strategy has allowed the University to successfully increase our faculty strength in the past years and the same applies to our international student recruitment. However, recruitment is a collective task; all members of the University should participate in and contribute to the recruitment exercise to further strengthen the quality of our faculty, our staff and our student intake.

In response to the challenge outlined in 4.1 above, improving analytics is a strategic priority. The University has taken steps in the past few years to strengthen the collection and analysis of institutional data but still needs to reinforce a culture of data-driven decision making to help deliver measurable outcomes. We need to strengthen our institutional infrastructure, with the right systems and the appropriate talent, to completely centralise and streamline data collection in order to reveal key trends and metrics, especially on aspects related to student learning and development, research performance and financial well-being.

Congestion is common on campus. With various building projects in progress, campus safety needs to be guaranteed. Serious student housing shortage is a long-standing issue; meanwhile, ageing building infrastructure and maintenance issues of campus buildings, which also have cost implications, can negatively affect end users. Creative solutions to space issues are needed, especially before the new academic buildings and residence hostels for students become available at the end of the next five years.

Providing institutional support for non-local students and ensuring that they are included in local student activities is essential. This is a cross-sector issue, and is thus everyone’s concern. While promoting internationalisation, the University needs to further strengthen support for non-local students and enhance their integration with local students to ensure that these ambassadors for the University return home after a memorable and positive experience of studying and living at CityU.

Good media relations and enhancing the branding of the University are crucial to raising our reputation among our stakeholders. Our public relations and communication infrastructure needs to be considerably improved to strengthen our visibility and support the University’s rise to the next level of development. It is everyone’s responsibility to promote the University by exemplifying our vision and mission in their professional conduct and reflecting a positive view of the University within their network.

The University aims to pursue world-class research and education, drawing on the skills and talents of every member of the University in order to meet challenges, seize opportunities, build on our strengths and address any gaps in our current provision and planning as outlined above. The University community as a whole supports actions to maintain our upward trajectory in the 2020–2025 period within the following strategic themes: education and student development; research and knowledge transfer; faculty and staff advancement; campus growth and sustainability; global identity and university advancement.