A great university is never a product of circumstances or luck; rather it is a matter of conscious choice and discipline, according to Professor Way Kuo, President and University Distinguished Professor of City University of Hong Kong (CityU).
Becoming a great university takes years of dedication and the concerted effort of stakeholders, faculty, staff, students and alumni from all walks of life, he said.
With a clear roadmap specified in its strategic plans, CityU has astounded the higher education sector, locally as well as regionally, with its remarkable academic and research achievements in the last ten years. This success is reflected in the results of international academic ranking exercises. In 2016, for example, CityU was ranked 55th in the world and 7th in Asia according to the Quacquarelli Symonds (QS). CityU was also ranked 3rd in Hong Kong in the latest QS Asian University Rankings.
In addition, CityU is the first university in Hong Kong to receive the 5-Star Plus Award from the QS Asia-Pacific Professional Leaders in Education (QS-APPLE) conference. The award recognises CityU as an elite destination for the very best students and faculty worldwide, and acknowledges our excellence in teaching and research, the globalisation experience of our students, and our capacity for nurturing student talent.
Professor Way Kuo took over the helm at CityU in 2008 after living and working in the USA for 34 years. He has kindly agreed to talk about how CityU has achieved such fast growth within such a short period and detail his plans for leading CityU to new heights in this highly competitive and internationalised era.
“There are no secrets to achieving greatness in higher education,” said Professor Kuo. “A distinguished 20th century political scientist, Francis Fukuyama, once said while commenting on the inherent conservatism of human institutions that ‘there is often a substantial lag between changes in the external environment that should trigger institutional change, and the actual willingness of societies to make those changes.’ In the higher education sector, the situation is much the same. Universities are usually conservative institutions.”
He said that due to this inherent conservatism of human institutions and natural human inertia, there was an unwillingness in the local higher education sector to embrace change. This reluctance is epitomised by a reluctance to accept the integration of teaching and research and a noticeable neglect of innovation and creativity.
Professor Kuo acknowledged that Hong Kong keeps abreast of developments in hardware and software. This is because the city is home to leading academics from various disciplines and cutting-edge research facilities. But these advantages will not be given full play if the deeply entrenched Hong Kong mindset resists change. What was needed, he said, was more “soulware”.
“The essence of building a great university is the insight that comes from the right ‘soulware’,” he said. Soulware refers to a kind of culture, a habitual behaviour, and a way of thinking. Being equipped with complete sets of hardware and software is an essential condition for building a great university but it will not be sufficient to promote advanced academic research. Nor will the antiquated comments by some of the social celebrities be the solution to perfecting our universities,” he said.
Thanks to Professor Kuo’s visionary thinking on the future directions of higher education, CityU has embraced research as an integral element in teaching. In addition, innovation and entrepreneurship are firmly set in the minds of academics and students following the introduction of CityU’s pioneering Discovery-enriched Curriculum. Other notable points are that CityU has seen a dramatic increase in support for student exchange opportunities; it has been ranked #1 in Hong Kong for Citations per Faculty for two consecutive years; and it has greatly enhanced internationalisation on campus.
These achievements reflect academic strengths and research excellence across a range of disciplines, from engineering, mathematics and business to creative media, media and communication, law, the humanities and social sciences. One of Professor Kuo’s visionary initiatives was the establishment of the School of Veterinary Medicine (SVM), the first in Asia. Set up in collaboration with Cornell University, a world leader in the field, SVM recently launched a six-year Bachelor of Veterinary Medicine programme, which will be one of the flagship programmes for CityU, the region and beyond.
Due to his leadership acumen in steering the University across new waters, Professor Kuo is expected to serve CityU for another five-year term starting from 2018.
“While we are well positioned and academically ready for new challenges, we cannot afford to be complacent. Our expectations are high, our aspirations ambitious, and our road to excellence long,” said Professor Kuo, confident that, with the continued support of the University community, CityU is destined to open exciting new chapters in the foreseeable future.