City University of Hong KongBeyond Boundaries: diversifying student skills for the new technological era

Beyond Boundaries: diversifying student skills for the new technological era

In the seventh instalment of City University of Hong Kong’s Beyond Boundaries series, Way Kuo continues a discussion with Chinese education expert Zhang Jie

With the Chinese economy experiencing rapid growth in recent years, demand for highly educated, well-rounded professionals in the country has also accelerated. Higher education institutions have been central to meeting that demand, but they also face challenges such as how to nurture and retain talent while remaining competitive in an increasingly global age.

City University of Hong Kong (CityU) is an international university with a strong focus on the integration of teaching and research, as well as diversity of education through cross-cultural studies. In the seventh episode of the Beyond Boundaries interview series, university president Way Kuo met with Zhang Jie, former president of Shanghai Jiao Tong University (SJTU), to discuss the relationship between higher education and economic development, and specifically what universities can do to better themselves and society.

The number of university students in China has grown dramatically over the past 40 years, from 270,000 in 1978 to about 17 million today. Maintaining student quality as well as strengthening teaching and research to meet the demands of China’s rapid development is a major challenge facing universities, Zhang said.

At the same time, the expansion of higher education in the country has had an undeniably positive impact. While the number of students has grown 100-fold, gross domestic product has increased 225 times over, Zhang added, demonstrating that higher education “plays an important role in China’s economy and society”.

But both education leaders agreed that students were under intense academic pressure to perform as a result of this shift, and that universities in China have been seeking ways to diversify their students’ interests without diluting the quality of their studies.

As Kuo put it: “If playing the violin is the only way to enter a university, many people will play the violin well. But they do not know that the purpose of playing violin is not just playing the correct notes.”

Asked by Kuo what distinguished the learning experience at SJTU from that of other institutions, Zhang said it was the “school culture” that made his institution unique.

“Our motto is ‘gratitude and responsibility’. I extracted an [additional] message from the motto which is…confidence,” he said. “I also imparted on my students the idea that for the future, the country and the people, it is particularly important…to have passion and dreams.”

Similarly, at CityU, students “are expected to be the pillars of society, [to be] the best citizens after they enter the workforce. We emphasise teamwork”, Kuo said.

The two leaders agreed that the future jobs market would require graduates to have a variety of skills, extending beyond their chosen degree subjects.

With this in mind, “students in science and technology should be more aware of the humanities”, Kuo said. “In the same way, in universities that [specialise in] the humanities, students should attach more importance to quantitative analysis and develop a respect for facts in their enquiry.”

Asked what his ideal university would look like, Zhang said: “We are about to enter a new era of technological innovation…The future calls for a kind of talent that cannot be divided into categories by the traditional academic disciplines.” 

Find out more about CityU’s Beyond Boundaries series.

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