EDITOR'S NOTE: Hong Kong's latest educational reform, which introduces a "3-3-4" academic structure, will see the city's universities rolling out four-year tertiary curricula from next year. To ensure a smooth transition, most of Hong Kong's tertiary institutions began their preparations way before the new six-year secondary and four-year university system was approved in 2009. In the coming issues, we will feature one university every other week to find out how ready they are to embrace the impending challenges and opportunities in this new era of education.
The Hong Kong Polytechnic University (PolyU) has seen its fair share of changes over the years. Formerly known as the Hong Kong Polytechnic, it was granted full university status in 1994 - 22 years after it was established - and received approval from the University and Polytechnic Grants Committee for self-accreditation of degree programmes.
Today, PolyU is an internationally recognised institution of higher education offering more than 130 postgraduate, undergraduate and sub-degree programmes, supported by some 1,000 academic and research staff members.
"The forthcoming paradigm shift to a four-year undergraduate programme provides us with a unique opportunity to transform our education from one based on a well-established professional-oriented curriculum to one built upon a new curriculum that will enable our students to become `practical dreamers'," says PolyU president Timothy Tong Wai-cheung.
"The Freshmen Seminar, the general education component and the reading and writing requirements will facilitate in building a solid foundation not just for their university education but also for their future," he adds.
To cope with the expanded curriculum that starts from the 2012-13 academic year, PolyU will hire 100 additional academic staff and bring on stream four new buildings.
"We are more than ready. The entire university has been preparing for the advent of this new 3-3-4 education adventure for over four years now," says Wilfred Lai, division head for media and community relations at the university's Communications and Public Affairs Office.
Lai says the new four-year undergraduate curriculum will not only focus on preparing students academically, but also nurture them to become well-rounded and responsible global citizens.
"It's not just about adding an extra year of university education; it concerns the revamp of our entire undergraduate curriculum and other related support facilities, as well as meeting the needs and demands of students and society and changing the mindset of everyone involved," he says.
The new system focuses on developing students' critical thinking and problem-solving skills, rather than on rote learning. It also takes into account soft skills such as interpersonal and communications competencies. It allows students more flexibility in taking subjects they are interested in, rather than the clear-cut science or arts streams.
Lai says PolyU will adopt a flexible approach in admitting students to its new four-year undergraduate programme next year. "They can be admitted to broad disciplines and defer making a decision to no later than the end of the first semester in their second year," Lai explains.
The general entrance requirements are still thorough, covering one elective and four core subjects. Lai adds there will be extensive reading and writing components introduced to the general education programme and the discipline-specific curriculum to strengthen the students' English-language written and verbal skills.