Information Services Office   19.3.2012


Prof. Wong Wing-shing
Newsletter No. 394 > Thus Spake… > Prof. Wong Wing-shing, Dean of Graduate School

Prof. Wong Wing-shing, Dean of Graduate School


What role does the Graduate School play in CUHK?

The Graduate School has a matrix management organization. We don’t have our own teachers. Instead, all of our programmes are moderated by the graduate divisions of different Faculties and departments. The school’s role is to formulate long-term strategies, manage postgraduate programmes, assure quality, provide basic support to postgraduate students, and help them to deal with academic problems by serving as a one-stop information gateway.

What support does the Graduate School provide to students?

Both research and taught postgraduate programmes require students to demonstrate that they’ve been properly trained in their fields during their undergraduate studies. Building on the depth and breadth of their knowledge, they are expected to move on to develop new ways of thinking or receive further professional training. Improving Postgraduate Learning is the only group of modules organized by the Graduate School. The modules cover topics ranging from information search, laboratory safety, thesis writing, plagiarism, and presentation skills, to languages, which can be described as general knowledge for postgraduate students.

The number of postgraduates caught up with that of undergraduates about four or five years ago and has exceeded it ever since. What does this tell us?

CUHK has a postgraduate population of about 12,000. The size of postgraduate research population depends on how the University positions itself. The proportion of research postgraduates is usually higher in a research university. In overseas research universities, the research-taught postgraduates ratio is 50:50. We have only 2,000 research postgraduate students. If we have a bigger population of these students, our stature as a research university can be further enhanced. A large proportion of the growth in our postgraduate students is found in the taught programmes which, offered by the eight Faculties, feature an attractive diversity. The major source of students has also shifted from part-time to full-time students. There are several thousands of them and many from mainland China. This is a phenomenon common to all other local universities.

Some say postgraduate programmes have become cash cows for universities. What’s your view on this?

Taught programmes have operated on a self-financing basis for a dozen years. It’s the government’s view that certain programmes should not be funded by public money although they can meet the needs of society and of students. So it has been decided not to fund these programmes directly. Now, to support the government’s policy of developing Hong Kong into an education hub, we recruit many non-local students. The quality of education and long-term objectives of the University should never be sacrificed for its development. The number of programmes and students cannot increase infinitely. We have to reach a consensus with society regarding the development of the education industry.

How is a postgraduate programme conceived of?

New research programmes are mainly initiated by academic departments. The newly introduced MPhil–PhD Programme in Biomedical Engineering is a joint brainchild of the University and the Faculty of Engineering. Taught programmes are mainly introduced in response to the needs of society. For example, the Faculty of Medicine has rolled out a number of new programmes to meet needs for training in certain fields. A new programme may originate from a very preliminary idea of a teacher or from informal discussions.

How will postgraduate programmes change in the future?

PhD programmes form the cornerstone of research programmes. The system has been used for more than a century. Strictly speaking, these are intended for those who want to pursue a career in academia. While academic research provides limited jobs globally, some people who enrol on PhD programmes, due to various reasons, may not be very interested in an academic career after they’ve finished undergraduate studies. Isn’t it a misallocation of resources for the government to fund someone to study a research programme when he or she doesn’t really want to pursue an academic career? This is a problem faced by many developed countries and regions. Demand for scientific research talent changes with the times and societal needs. Maybe it’s time to review our programme designs. Should additional training be provided? For example, adding administrative management knowledge to the PhD programme structure, or adding industrial training to it as the German do, or providing more doctoral degree programmes other than the PhD. I have to point out that this is a problem to be addressed by our community and the education sector at large, and it is not unique to Hong Kong.

How do you juggle teaching, research and administrative duties?

Allocation of time is easy. Administrative duties take priority because they’re usually urgent in nature. So does teaching. I teach one course a year and serve as a graduate adviser. Whenever I am free, I conduct research on communication and information control. I take much pleasure in teaching and research. When I encounter difficulties in administrative work, research offers me an escape from those problems. Of course, I derive great satisfaction from positive evaluations given by students of a programme.

What are your favourite pastimes?

I turn to swimming and music for relieving stress at work. I like music that is creative and moodful, be it classical or pop, Chinese or Western. The enjoyment of music is an emotion-laden journey. Music has its own rules and logics, but it also provides us with a rich source for metaphysical thinking.

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