The needs of the 21st century have brought forth the demand for graduates with a solid foundation of planning and investigative skills, critical thinking, problem-solving skills, languages and communication skills, as well as quantitative and analytical skills. Knowledge in a single discipline is no longer sufficient in the fast-changing environment of the Internet and globalization. Under the New Academic Structure (NAS) of the Hong Kong education system, general education (GE) has become an essential and important element of the new curricula at the senior secondary and post-secondary levels as GE is identified as a crucial component to enable students to develop these skills.
In the transition to the NAS, all existing articulation arrangements have to be revisited. In particular, the credit transfer of GE courses is new to many undergraduate and sub-degree institutions. Most 3-year undergraduate degree programmes do not place as much significance on GE as the new 4-year degree programmes do. Evidently, the eight University Grants Committee (UGC)-funded universities have designed their new GE curricula in various forms. The variation of GE management and curriculum structures in the sub-degree sector is immense as well. The diversity in GE curricula among undergraduate and sub-degree programmes implies that articulation arrangements can be a multilateral and complex issue.
The Federation for Self-financing Tertiary Education (FSTE), however, found this academic structure reform a good opportunity for stakeholders in the sub-degree sector to work together to improve the design and delivery of GE courses as well as to develop mechanisms to facilitate credit transfer of sub-degree GE courses to undergraduate programmes. In 2010, the FSTE formed a Working Group to look at the development of sub-degree GE courses. In the subsequent year, FSTE was granted funding support from the Quality Enhancement Grant Scheme (QEGS) of the Education Bureau (EDB) to examine “Models on Sub-degree General Education Curriculum and Exemplary General Education Courses”. The project aims to:
- enhance the quality of sub-degree GE through the collective wisdom and sharing of good practices among the participating institutions;
- facilitate the credit transfer of GE courses between sub-degree programmes and degree programmes through a common sub-degree GE framework that is mutually recognized and adopted by sub-degree institutions.
The Project aimed to achieve these goals through three major deliverables: a survey on GE provision in the degree and sub-degree sectors; a series of seminars and workshops on GE; and a GE Guidebook.
Through cooperation and partnership with the Hong Kong-America Center, Fulbright visiting scholars were brought in as GE consultants who were featured in 7 seminars and workshops to share their views on GE and the US experience from 2012 to 2013. During this period, a survey and an analysis of the GE provisions offered by UGC-funded institutions was conducted. Surveys and interviews were carried out for both degree and sub-degree institutions to gather comprehensive information about the design and implementation of GE. Based on the information collected, with input from the participating sub-degree institutions, a Guidebook on GE was produced and published in late September 2013.
Admittedly it will be a long journey to establish a common sub-degree GE framework that is mutually recognized and adopted by sub-degree institutions that can better support the credit transfer of GE courses between sub-degree programmes and degree programmes. It is conceded that the publication of this Guidebook for the sub-degree sector in Hong Kong is nevertheless a major and remarkable accomplishment of the QEGS project, not solely for its content but for its representation for the future of Hong Kong’s higher education.
The Guidebook is a practical document, with definitions, philosophies, models, data, and exemplars. It is good evidence of a prominent journey of collaboration representing the collective wisdom and effort of major sub-degree institutions, to develop a framework that facilitates students’ articulation to higher education in multiple ways, to access to the well-rounded education, and to have opportunities for further, even life-long, education. It is hoped that it can serve as an important reference as well as a guiding light on future directions for GE provision for the sub-degree sector in Hong Kong. Furthermore, it will form a base to facilitate the development of an efficient credit transfer system for GE in the degree sector in future.
The fact that even for a relatively well-developed and well-funded community college system in the United States, it still took several decades to arrive at common negotiation and articulation systems and platforms. Hence, for the relatively young, developing system in Hong Kong, while the American model may provide direction for our way forward, it may take time to mature and materialize. Perhaps getting a common conceptual GE framework as recommended in the Guidebook is a good basis and an appropriate step forward for the development of a common platform for negotiating articulations and credit transfer collectively for the GE courses at sub-degree level
In the concluding session of the Qualifications Framework Conference on “Global Mobility – Making it Happen”, organized by the HKSAR Government on 18-19 March 2013, it was mentioned that the Qualifications Framework in Hong Kong has to face the “thorny problem of recognition”. The Qualifications Framework has provided a sound basis for standards, but extra efforts and incentives are required to overcome barriers and prejudices between institutions in working it out in practice. Likewise, it is hoped that sub-degree sector can take the first step to make a concerted effort towards the mutual recognition of credits for its own GE courses.
In the process of undertaking the GE project, including the preparation of the Guidebook, a number of GE course developers and teachers from different disciplines and institutions have been brought together to forums and discussions. There has been a request for a network involving GE teachers to share and improve course design, delivery and assessment. Publication of the Guidebook together with development of a GE website almost kick started the network unofficially. It is hoped that the effort can be sustained and extended in the future in the spirit of sharing of good practices and collaboration among sub-degree institutions as well as between the sub-degree and degree sectors.
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