The Hong Kong University of Science and Technology (HKUST) was conceived as an institution in the 1980s to embrace innovation and help propel the city to a knowledge-based economy.
Seen in this light, the advent of four-year bachelor's degree programmes under the 3-3-4 academic structure for secondary and tertiary education can be seen as a natural extension of its mission.
"The four-year degree is a great opportunity to provide a broader, more rounded undergraduate education," says HKUST Provost, Professor Wei Shyy.
The university began preparing for the transition more than five years ago and a new curriculum was approved to give students more flexibility and opportunities to follow their own interests.
One of the main objectives was to build a strong University Common Core for the extended first-degree programme, with a broad intellectual range that will whet students' curiosity and enhance critical thinking.
While HKUST has established a fine reputation for its science, technology and business management programmes since opening in 1991, the new undergraduate curriculum presents an opportunity to deepen the overall learning experience.
Professor Shyy says the longer course period means that academic studies can be complemented by out-of-class activities, including opportunities for undergraduate research, international exchange and service learning.
The four-year curriculum has also been designed to include a deeper and richer education in English, a vital tool for 21st century students living in an increasingly interconnected world.
"After a full introduction in Year 1, students will follow up with specific courses that strengthen their English for professional life. Communication skills are being built into the University Common Core and courses for majors," says Dr David Mole, Associate Provost.
The 3-3-4 reforms have necessitated improvements to the hardware as well as the software at the university. To accomplish the transition, HKUST plans to recruit close to 100 new and replacement faculty members over the next five years. At the same time, a major construction programme is under way at the seaside campus in Clearwater Bay.
On the question of whether the new system will change the way they run the university, President Tony Chan says: "At HKUST, we consider the four-year undergraduate reform to be a golden opportunity to develop the whole person and nurture well-rounded talent who can succeed both locally and globally. Our recent five-year strategic plan is organised under the rubric of 1-HKUST, a unifying theme to achieve a vision and a framework to utilise all of HKUST's strengths to achieve greater strategic goals - to make the whole bigger than the sum of its parts.
"Its realisation can take many forms, including emphasising cross-school and cross-disciplinary education and research programmes, integrating research into undergraduate education, broadening students' experience with a dynamic campus life and abundant extra-curricular activities, and enhancing interactions across different segments of our campus community, between faculty, staff and students, both local and non-local," he says.