City University of Hong KongUniversity collaboration beyond boundaries

University collaboration beyond boundaries

Reflecting on an extensive interview series conducted by City University of Hong Kong, its president Way Kuo shares some of the key insights

As universities the world over face pressure to become increasingly globalised in their approach to teaching and research, leaders can learn from one another’s experiences. This was the philosophy behind Beyond Boundaries, an interview series produced by City University of Hong Kong (CityU HK) and undertaken by the university’s president, Way Kuo.

Over three years, Kuo conducted 32 interviews with leaders of some of the world’s top education institutions, spanning Asia, Africa, Europe and North America. CityU HK is an international university that emphasises the integration of research and teaching. The university promotes diverse cross-cultural studies through various programmes, and its Beyond Boundaries series is an extension of that. “All of the institutions I engaged with inspire us in one way or another as they have their own niche and missions,” Kuo says.

One of the reasons for making the series was to explore the challenges that universities face in becoming more global while also staying relevant to their local communities. “Globalisation and localisation have gone hand in hand over the past few decades. There is what we call a ‘process of glocalisation’,” Kuo says.

Reflecting on what he learned from conversations with fellow leaders during the series, Kuo says: “Glocalisation is ongoing in all the universities covered by this project. Such a process is particularly evident in younger and smaller countries, such as Singapore, Israel, South Africa and Georgia. There, universities shoulder the dual mission of educating students for the globalised labour market and helping with nation-building by providing education on national imagination, national discourse and national identity.”

While the challenges faced by institutions vary between regions – and even within the same countries – Beyond Boundaries highlights some common themes. According to Kuo, the accelerated global mobility of talent has resulted in greater competition for universities in recruiting and retaining faculty members. “Although the brain drain prevalent in developing countries has slowed down, there is still a trend of talented scholars being attracted to institutions where there are more resources and better opportunities for career advancement,” he reflects.

Similarly, the shift towards globalisation has imposed “uniform requirements for professional certification” and “a certain level of standardisation” in terms of higher education curricula, as graduates are expected to be employable to a much broader global market than before. “Currently, there are two major competing educational systems in the world: the American system and the European system,” Kuo notes. While the European system has been standardised as a result of its participation in the Bologna Process, “the compatibility between this regionally integrated system and the American system necessitates further collaboration and adjustment.  The two competing systems also pose a challenge to those who are trying to select one or the other system,” Kuo says.

Another shared challenge felt by many institutions is the desire to participate in global university rankings. “Although those rankings measure some aspects of a university’s prestige, research outcome, resources, employment of students and internationalisation, they are by no means perfect,” Kuo says. As a result, he believes universities often have a “love-hate attitude” to such rankings.

As new technologies such as artificial intelligence and genomics come to the fore in many areas of research, universities share the challenge of addressing big ethical questions – something reflected in many of the conversations between leaders in the Beyond Boundaries series. Such ethical questions have gained “greater urgency because of the rapid advances in those fields”, Kuo says. Ultimately, it is collaboration and transparency between different institutional research projects that will help find solutions to these challenges.

The timing of the Beyond Boundaries series threw a spotlight on an additional global challenge that will require continued thought from higher education institutions in the coming decades: the delivery of education in the context of global disasters, such as the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic. “Traditional classroom teaching was almost completely toppled by the pandemic at the time of its peak,” Kuo says. “Online teaching has been expediently used as an alternative platform of education delivery. Universities around the world are just beginning to assess and cope with the issues of such delivery, such as quality and its assurance, interaction between teachers and students, psychological impact on students, and selection of appropriate platforms and infrastructure.”

As of 2022, the CityU HK campus offers seven doctoral degree programmes and eight master’s programmes, and its students and postdoctoral community have founded more than 70 start-ups in New York, generating $75 million (£64 million) in investment. “It is one of the first innovative university campuses in the world that combines teaching and entrepreneurship and directly incubates start-up companies on campus,” Kuo says.

The three-year-long interview project has left Kuo with “many lingering memories” of enjoyable conversations with many “very impressive leaders”. “When the project was first conceived, the plan was to produce six videos that would explore five major themes presented in my book, Soulware: The American Way in China’s Higher Education,” Kuo explains. These are “the internationalisation of higher education; the integration of teaching and research; the separation of politics and education; quality and evaluation; and creativity and innovation. The project eventually turned into 32 videos and explored myriad issues that far exceeded those five general themes.” An updated version of Kuo’s book, titled The Absence of Soulware in Higher Education, includes some of the observations made by the education leaders featured in the Beyond Boundaries project. It will be published in 2023.

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