City University of Hong KongBeyond Boundaries: how ancient universities are adapting to meet the demands of internationalisation

Beyond Boundaries: how ancient universities are adapting to meet the demands of internationalisation

In the first episode of CityU’s second Beyond Boundaries interview series, university president Way Kuo discusses campus autonomy and expanding enrolment at the University of Vienna

Universities the world over are facing unprecedented change. From navigating digital transformation to protecting academic freedoms and autonomy, leaders find themselves with decisions to make – and many are taking bold new approaches as a result.

The second series of Beyond Boundaries, produced by City University of Hong Kong (CityU), sets out to explore some of these emerging global challenges.

The series is led by CityU president Way Kuo, who has worked as a researcher and academic leader in the US and Hong Kong and is particularly interested in the shared challenges facing education leaders around the world.

For the first episode of the new series, Kuo met with Heinz Engl, rector of the University of Vienna.

Founded in 1365, the University of Vienna is the world’s oldest German-language institution. It is famous for producing some of history’s greatest mathematicians and astronomers and, more recently, 26 Nobel laureates – including Hans Fischer, who discovered chlorophyll, and the quantum physicist Erwin Schrödinger.

The university’s identity is evolving, and today about 90,000 students from more than 130 countries are enrolled. Continuing to provide a high standard of education to such a large community of students is an ever-growing challenge.

Asked how he navigates this balance while promoting internationalisation, Engl points to the importance of integrating teaching and research – something that CityU also proudly emphasises within its core mission.

“We are educating the citizens of the future, so our students should be involved in research,” Engl explains. Second, “[they should] get a good education. And as far as possible they should be [working to solve] problems for society – that’s what we call the third mission.”

The institution has a number of projects in place to achieve this third mission, Engl says. “Our professors have involvement with all kinds of civil society institutions, not only with industry and economy but also with museums, with cultural institutions and NGOs.”

Such civic duties are supported by the university’s efforts to become more politically autonomous, building on a legal change made by the Austrian government 20 years ago.

“To what extent has your campus autonomy been exercised?” Kuo asks, noting that it is “very difficult for any university to be totally unlinked from the government”, particularly when many receive the bulk of their funding from the public purse.

“Before that time, big questions like hiring of professors were decided by the government…Now this is completely different,” Engl says. “We have a strong autonomy [even though] we are mainly funded by the state.”

In the past three years, the university has hired 80 new professors from all over the world, “a big step forward”, Engl says, which will help to “consolidate the growth” seen in student numbers.

“We have invested in fields like data science in microbiology, molecular biology but also in the connection between fields like social sciences and natural sciences,” he said. “I think development will have a large and long-lasting impact on the quality of both teaching and research at the University of Vienna.”

Find out more about CityU’s Beyond Boundaries series.

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