City University of Hong KongBeyond Boundaries: nurturing students’ sense of social responsibility

Beyond Boundaries: nurturing students’ sense of social responsibility

In the sixth episode of City University of Hong Kong’s Beyond Boundaries series, Way Kuo meets with Chinese higher education expert Zhang Jie

Universities in China have made significant progress in furthering their global reputation in recent years, both in terms of research and building strong international links.

The country is known for its strict approach to learning, and Chinese students typically have a heavy workload. As the world of education becomes increasingly globalised and interconnected, Chinese institutions are beginning to rethink this approach, taking inspiration from countries such as Finland, where students take fewer exams. But the cultural transition is not a simple one.

For the sixth instalment of Beyond Boundaries, a series of interviews produced by City University of Hong Kong (CityU), university president Way Kuo met with Zhang Jie, a former university leader who himself graduated during a time of major cultural and educational transition in China.

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. The Beyond Boundaries series was designed as an opportunity for education leaders around the world to share their experiences and ambitions for higher education.

A renowned researcher in physics, Zhang was president of Shanghai Jiao Tong University from 2006 to 2017. He graduated from high school in 1977, making him part of the first cohort of students to complete their university studies after China’s 10-year Cultural Revolution.

Speaking to Kuo about his experience, Zhang said: “Life was really tough then…We didn’t have enough food to eat during high school.”

One of his first impressions of starting college was that his classmates were “hungry for knowledge…The teachers hadn’t had the opportunity to teach properly for 10 years, so they relished it.”

Asked about his experience as a university president, Zhang said his appointment was “coincidental…In 2006, China needed more leading roles in education, it was a period of great transition.”

Given his career on the front line of research, Zhang was “hesitant” to take up the role but he was eventually persuaded, he said. “Mainly because, as a president of a university like this, I can pass on my passion for research and my sense of responsibility for the country to the younger generation, which is probably more meaningful for the development of China,” he explained.

Kuo responded that the “element of coincidence” was an important one to recognise, and a good reminder that not everything in life can be planned out. “Nowadays young people often talk about planning…Some think that few chances are open to them in society. In my opinion, that’s not true at all,” he said.

The education leaders agreed that social duty was also important for students to consider when setting out on their careers. “What kind of people do we want to cultivate in a university? I think the sense of responsibility is a deciding factor in someone’s success or failure,” Zhang said.

“I often say to my students that a successful man requires both IQ and EQ [emotional intelligence],” he concluded. “IQ may determine what kind of university he can get into, while EQ can determine his whole life.”

Find out more about CityU’s Beyond Boundaries series.­­

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