Propelling Hong Kong’s development with timely planning - New directions of UGC-funded universities in the 2022-25 triennium

The University Grants Committee (UGC), established in 1965, is committed to realising academic excellence in Hong Kong’s higher education sector. As a non-statutory body, the UGC advises the HKS...

The University Grants Committee (UGC), established in 1965, is committed to realising academic excellence in Hong Kong’s higher education sector. As a non-statutory body, the UGC advises the HKSAR Government and acts as a bridge between the Government and the eight UGC-funded universities, in particular, on the allocation of student places and recurrent grants to the UGC-funded sector, and assists the Government in conveying and implementing higher education policies.

Mr. Carlson Tong Ka-shing, the UGC Chairman who led the fruitful conclusion of two rounds of Planning Exercise, is truly thankful to the Government for the generous investment in higher education over years. “In response to the strong public aspiration on the role of our universities in nurturing the younger generation and developing cutting-edge research, the UGC has collaborated with the universities to take forward the Government’s strategic directions in a thorough and comprehensive manner in this round of Planning Exercise.

We have been guiding universities to proactively address the policy priorities and societal demand on one hand, while encouraging them to focus on their differentiated roles and niche strengths on the other,” Mr. Tong says. “As we move into the 2022-25 triennium, the UGC and the eight universities have also signed a renewed set of University Accountability Agreements (UAA) to drive our universities to strive for excellence in light of the strategic directions from the Government, and to offer their unique contributions to Hong Kong’s future success.”

A forward-looking endeavour to fulfil the needs of Hong Kong

As institutions of learning, our universities have always strived to meet the evolving needs of Hong Kong. The UGC therefore conducts regular dialogues with the universities on their visions and plans for the future, role differentiation and curriculum development strategies through our Planning Exercise on a triennial basis. The Exercise also provides an opportunity for universities to propose and launch new programmes in response to the latest community demands and trends. “Through the Planning Exercise, the UGC aims at introducing a degree of dynamism into the sector that would allow universities to respond to societal changes while maintaining a degree of stability which is also important for the delivery of quality education,” explains Professor James Tang Tuck-hong, Secretary-General of the UGC.

At the commencement of each Planning Exercise, Start Letters are issued by the UGC to provide guidance to the eight UGC-funded universities in respect of the Government’s strategic directions and manpower requirements, as well as the observations on the latest societal development trends, thus facilitating universities in developing their Planning Exercise Proposals. For the 2022-25 triennium, universities are required to respond to new demands with bold, innovative, and strategic long-term thinking; consolidate UGC-funded programmes among universities; instil a strong sense of civic duty to graduates and nurture them as law-abiding, responsible citizens; and encourage the knowledge transfer from basic to applied research to create greater social impact.

Based on these strategic directions, the universities develop their Planning Exercise Proposals which are assessed through a data-driven approach with a competitive and objective framework. The UGC then submits the funding recommendations to the Government for consideration. Eventually, the Chief Executive-in-Council decides on the amount of funding for the triennium.

Rewarding performance and promoting excellence

Since 2019, the UGC and all universities have entered into UAA with performance indicators to encourage the pursuit of excellence in teaching and learning, research, knowledge transfer, internationalisation and financial sustainability.

“The UAA outlines the responsibilities and duties of each university in relation to their use of public funding,” says Dr. Kim MAK Kin-wah, member of the UGC.

Throughout the process, all Planning Exercise Proposals are evaluated against seven criteria, namely:

(1) Institutional mission and strategy;

(2) Meeting the needs of society over the next decade;

(3) Quality of undergraduate student experience of learning and teaching;

(4) Quality of research performance and of research postgraduate experience;

(5) Impact of knowledge transfer and wider engagement activity;

(6) Enhancement of internationalisation activities; and

(7) Financial health and institutional sustainability.

“By reviewing the progress of various universities under the UAA during the Planning Exercise, this ensures universities’ accountability for public funding in alignment with their distinctive roles,” Kim explains. “For example, all UGC-funded universities have made great strides in research and knowledge transfer between global institutions. This has resulted in significant societal impact in areas such as innovation and entrepreneurship, reindustrialisation, and Chinese medicine.”

“The assessment and mechanism of funding allocation is very objective and fair to all universities. In terms of financial health and institutional sustainability, the UGC has conducted rigorous assessment on each university’s financial and risk management,” Mr. Philip Tsai Wing-chung, member of the UGC, notes. “Overall, the Planning Exercise is very much data-driven and in alignment with the Government’s strategic directions.”

A collaborative journey to evolve with the times

Throughout the Planning Exercise, the UGC facilitates communication between the Government and the UGC-funded universities. “Apart from conveying government policies to universities, it also seeks to understand the needs of universities, the challenges they face, and the trends and changes in wider society. This allows the UGC and universities to think together and plan ahead as a collective body on how we can best serve the younger generation and future leaders of Hong Kong,” observes Professor Alan Chan Kam-leung, member of the UGC and Provost of the Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK).

Additionally, the UGC adopts a competitive allocation mechanism to encourage effective planning among universities in nurturing talents that are conducive to the strategic development of Hong Kong. Under the mechanism, each university is required to return a few student places for reallocation, thus promoting the optimal distribution of student places. “This encourages universities to continually enhance their programme offerings and strive for excellence,” Professor Wong Wing-tak, member of the UGC and Deputy President and Provost of the Hong Kong Polytechnic University (PolyU) points out.

With Innovation and Technology being more pervasive than ever, in addition to STEM programmes, the universities will also roll out new interdisciplinary programmes by blending non-STEM disciplines (such as humanities, education, art and businesses) with technology in the 2022-25 triennium. This will nurture a new generation with subject knowledge and digital competencies ready for the future world.

Hong Kong Baptist University: A positive catalyst for introspection

Hong Kong Baptist University (HKBU) commits to realising its distinctive institutional role, fulfilling public aspirations, and offering greater opportunities to students through creating new programmes.

“The Planning Exercise Proposal is a positive catalyst for introspection on the relevancy of our programme portfolio to nurture the next generation of talent, in light of changes in our immediate environment and the wider forces shaping our world. It is an opportunity for us to inject innovation into our programme portfolio while ensuring alignment with our institutional strengths and positioning,” states Dr. Albert Chau, Vice-President (Teaching and Learning) of HKBU.

Against the backdrop of the university’s distinctive liberal arts-inspired curriculum, as well as Hong Kong’s standing as an arts and cultural hub, HKBU is offering four new transdisciplinary undergraduate programmes in the 2022/23 academic year. These include Bachelor of Arts and Science in Arts and Technology, and Bachelor of Chinese Medicine and Bachelor of Science in Biomedical Science, etc. By integrating science, technology, and the humanities, these programmes not only cater to the immense societal demand for art talents, but also nurture future-ready learners with a broad academic foundation and a comprehensive range of unique competencies.

As a forerunner in Chinese medicine education and research, and in line with its role as the operator of the first Chinese medicine hospital in Hong Kong, HKBU will flexibly increase the number of student places in its Chinese medicine programmes in the 2022-25 triennium. In doing so, HKBU aims to create synergy between education and the Chinese medicine industry, contributing to advancements in the field and the development of Chinese medicine in Hong Kong.

The Education University of Hong Kong: Cutting edge programmes to promote greater synergies

Similarly, the Planning Exercise for the 2022-25 triennium ushers in a new era for The Education University of Hong Kong (EdUHK). “We have leveraged this opportunity to review our academic strategies and conduct forward planning corresponding to our missions, visions, development goals, and future societal needs,” says Professor John Lee, Vice President (Academic) and Provost of EdUHK.

In line with its Education-plus approach, EdUHK will be launching nine new programmes in the coming triennium. Featuring elements of STEM Education, Life and Values Education, and new technologies, these innovative programmes will create synergies between education and related multi-disciplinary circular areas, including artificial intelligence (AI) and educational technology, heritage education, arts management, sport science and coaching, early childhood and family studies.

EdUHK reviews and consolidates existing programme offerings to respond to the manpower needs of different sectors and prepare students for future challenges, such as the new BSocSc in Integrated Environmental Management programme, which focuses on global and environmental studies with the planned introduction of professional accreditation. “We enrich our undergraduate programmes across the board by strengthening experiential and service learning,” Lee remarks. “In keeping with the values of equity, inclusiveness, and diversity, we have also developed high-level strategies to support non-Chinese speaking local students and students with special education needs.”

The Chinese University of Hong Kong: Encouraging innovation and experimentation

For CUHK, the 2022-25 Planning Exercise enables the university to respond with agility and innovation to the latest trends in technology and digital health. Leveraging its historical strengths and its unique people-oriented vision, CUHK will be providing new transdisciplinary programmes and integrate traditional subjects with technology through a people-centric approach. From Biotechnology, Entrepreneurship and Healthcare Management programme, Learning Design and Technology programme to Computational Data Science programme, these innovative programmes will equip students with diverse perspectives, knowledge, and practical experiences to respond to Hong Kong’s rapidly changing technological and medical landscape.

To tap into the opportunities brought by the integration with the Greater Bay Area on development of smart hospitals and health-tech start-ups, CUHK introduces the Biotechnology, Entrepreneurship and Healthcare Management programme that aims to support the long-term advancement of the Hong Kong innovative entrepreneurship and healthcare system. Students will be trained to acquire entrepreneurial mindset for producing ground-breaking ideas, integrated knowledge in health sciences, data analytics and business management to provide innovative interdisciplinary solutions, and also the ability to communicate with collaborators of diverse background and provide solution for healthcare operations and translate medical and scientific advances into practice.

CUHK will also introduce the university-wide 3-unit Digital Literacy and Computational Thinking course as a Core Requirement for all undergraduate students from 2022/23. Upon successful completion of the course, students will be able to solve problems with data.

Apart from academic excellence, CUHK places great emphasis on whole-person development. Guided by the motto ‘Through learning and temperance to virtue’, CUHK will continue to uphold its commitment to nurturing students with a strong sense of social responsibility and a heart for future sustainable development.

The Hong Kong Polytechnic University: Nurturing STEM talent

The 2022-25 Planning Exercise encourages The Hong Kong Polytechnic University (PolyU) to respond to Innovation and Technology developments in Hong Kong by offering innovative transdisciplinary programmes and nurturing STEM talents.

From 2022/23 onwards, PolyU is offering a homogenic suite of common year-one curriculum and learning experience for students. This means that students will be given more time and freedom to choose and steer their study pathways, as they can select their Major based on their own interests and aspirations after their first year.

Furthermore, two main elements, ‘AI and Data Analytics (AIDA)’ and ‘Innovation and Entrepreneurship (IE)’, will be embedded into all undergraduate programmes at PolyU. AIDA includes Artificial Intelligence, Programming, Data Analysis and other related subjects and a featured Integrated Capstone Project; while IE comprises a company attachment, Business Innovation Project, field trips to learn about the entrepreneurial ecosystem, and a Greater Bay Area immersion experience.

To further foster research and development, PolyU launches a University-funded Undergraduate Research and Innovation Scheme to support 100 undergraduate students from each cohort to conduct research projects. Participants will be given priority accommodation in a special residential College of Undergraduate Researchers and Innovators, and enjoy comprehensive research and learning experience.