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Paradigm Shift in Hong Kong Higher Education

by Benjamin Skye | May 10, 2011 | Newsletters 0 Comments

Beginning next year, the Ministry of Education of Hong Kong will drastically over-haul the nation’s education system in order to better equip the nation’s youth to face the challenges of the 21st Century workplace.

The Island of Hong Kong, one of the world's international financial centers, is home to over 7 million people, with 95% of the population being Chinese.

The Island of Hong Kong, one of the world's international financial centers, is home to over 7 million people, with 95% of the population being Chinese.

According to an article published on May 2, 2011 titled “The American Model” from Inside Higher Education, universities in Hong Kong will no longer be operating under the current education model which resembles the one practiced by British higher education. Instead, Hong Kong universities will begin offering the four-year American model of higher education as a replacement for the three-year European model. This change will also see the Ministry of Education abolish the “O” Levels and “A” Levels examinations. Students will now attend high school for 12 years before beginning the new four-year university system.

Whereas the European model has traditionally been more focused on helping the student master his or her field of study exclusively, the American model promotes a more holistic form of learning, with the liberal arts programs requiring university students to spend time in college studying humanity courses in fields such as psychology, philosophy and sociology.

The biggest challenge for the faculty, however, is in the area of encouraging creativity among students.

The logic behind such a drastic move by the Hong Kong Ministry of Education stems from a firm belief that the American model will cultivate more individuals who can be leaders in their field. Hong Kong University of Science and Technology is one university that has embraced the benefits of the American liberal arts model of education. One faculty member at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology (HKUST) is quoted as saying, “If you are an accounting major, you should not be an accountant at KPMG (one of the biggest international accounting firms), you should be the managing director of KPMG. You must be aware of history, of language, of all the other skills. It’s not the mechanical aspects of accounting.”

Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, one of the most prestigious universities in Hong Kong, is leading the shift towards the American model of higher education.

Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, one of the most prestigious universities in Hong Kong, is leading the shift towards the American model of higher education.

In another similar article, King Lun Yeung, a professor of chemical engineering at HKUST, shares the sentiment expressed by his colleague. King expressed that most of his students are just as bright as their American counterparts. In fact, they generally work harder and take studying a lot more seriously. University students in Hong Kong are committed to idea of 2-3 hours of homework or reading per week for each credit of a course, and most students take 15-18 credits a semester. The biggest challenge for the faculty, however, is in the area of encouraging creativity among students.

In his courses with undergraduates, Yeung will pose a broad question, “and then I shut up and say they have to work through the issues,” he said. Fresh from a sabbatical at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Yeung said that with graduate students, the area HKUST is teaching is how to gain confidence with pushing new ideas. When graduate students start their programs, and he poses a challenge to them, they are likely to search for whatever has been written about the issue, rather than framing a hypothesis. “There is a sense that, ‘If I come up with a good idea, someone must have already come up with the same idea, so I’ll look for it,” Yeung said. The approach at HKUST is to encourage students to gain the confidence to put forward their own ideas, while also learning the material.

There is a firm belief that the American liberal arts education is more fitted to cultivating individuals with strong leadership skills and a more holistic worldview.

There is a firm belief that the American liberal arts education is more fitted to cultivating individuals with strong leadership skills and a more holistic worldview.

Demand for this style of education is strong. Last year, about 5,000 students from the rest of China applied for 150 slots allocated to them. As such, universities in the U.S. can look forward to an increase of applicants from Hong Kong since the education models are now more similar.

The private universities with whom ELI 360 partners with are strong supporters of the liberal arts model of education. The belief in holistic education not only emphasizes the need to develop lifelong-learners and well-rounded individuals, but also individuals who are capable of exercising strong leadership skills in the workplace. As a matter of fact, one of the six pillars of education, as proposed by ELI 360, is leadership. (Click here to read what ELI 360 defines as leadership.)

ELI 360’s Six Core Values of Education:

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