President Professor Stephen Cheung Yan-leung will pass the torch towards the end of August, after completing a monumental journey at the University spanning a decade. He has led the transformation and growth of the University, which is recognised regionally and globally for its leading role in education.
“As a finance professor, I was new to the world of teacher education when I took up the presidency of the then Institute in 2013. Although I’d spent my entire academic career in higher education, many things seemed unfamiliar and I could feel a heavy responsibility on my shoulders,” Professor Cheung reflects on how his decade-long tenure started.
For Professor Cheung, the past 10 years have been momentous, especially with the attainment of the university title in 2016. He played an indispensable role in transforming a monotechnic institution into the eighth publicly funded university in Hong Kong, with multidisciplinary strengths in programme offerings and research.
In a matter of a few years, the University became one of the top education universities in the world, acclaimed for its world-leading research and highly cited scholars. “EdUHK stands out among its local peers in its strategic focus on teacher education,” says Professor Cheung. “As a young and thriving university, we have come on in leaps and bounds.”
“While we remain steadfast in our core mission in education, we ventured into new disciplines in the past decade, from psychology, language studies, creative arts and culture, sports science and coaching, environmental science to educational technology,” he says. This broadening scope covers both programme offerings and research.
Knowledge transfer is another area where the University has made great strides, especially in Belt and Road countries. “Our scholars have spared no effort in driving nationwide educational projects in Cambodia and Vietnam, under the auspices of the World Bank,” explains Professor Cheung. “These projects cover capacity building for teachers at different levels, who will serve as agents of change in their countries.”
I'm fortunate to have worked with a great team.
Working as a team
None of these accomplishments would have been possible without the concerted efforts of the University community. “I have at no point been alone. I’m fortunate to have worked with a great team, who are passionate about making a difference,” he says with pride.
It is this esprit de corps that has helped the University rise to challenges at different stages. One example was the prolonged pandemic, which affected the community and the education sector for over three years. “I must pay tribute to faculty members for their prompt response and caring support for students during that difficult time,” he says. “I was also gratified to see the understanding and resilience of our students in adjusting to the switch in teaching modes.”
Another key challenge facing Professor Cheung during his tenure was the rise of radicalism and the prevalence of violent confrontations across the city. “It was a hard lesson for everyone. Sadly, many young people have paid a high price for that,” he says.
“While listening to and addressing students’ concerns, it’s equally important for educators to stand firm on core values and principles. Following the restoration of law and order, we should not shy away from contemplating the way forward for young people, including incarcerated students, who need continuous education opportunities. There is a consensus among university heads for handling such cases, with due regard given to individual circumstances and university regulations,” he adds.
Back to basics
Turning to the core of the problem, Professor Cheung stresses the importance of reviving traditional virtues and understanding Chinese history and culture, from the early years to university education. This, he says, will help young people orient themselves and forge a sense of national identity.
To this end, the University has introduced a series of undergraduate curriculum changes, including positive and values education, teaching ethics, and national security and Basic Law education. There are also credit-bearing courses about the Greater Bay Area and internship places there for prospective teachers. For in-service teachers, educational resources and materials on national security and the Basic Law have been made available, together with ongoing professional development.
Learning to innovate and adapt
As for the future of education, Professor Cheung attaches great importance to innovation, creativity and entrepreneurship. “We need to empower young people with the intellectual agility to learn, analyse, adapt and generate new ideas and concepts, rather than just spoon-feeding them,” he says.
“Technology has changed the way we live, work, learn and teach. Artificial intelligence (AI), in particular, has become a hot topic, with concerns about people losing their jobs. While many professions may be affected, teachers are irreplaceable. Human-to-human interaction can never be substituted by machines. That said, teachers must embrace new technologies to add value to their classes and prepare young people for the future,” says Professor Cheung.
Hong Kong is my home, and I will continue to contribute to the community in any capacity I can.
Roots in Hong Kong
Professor Cheung says he will miss living on the EdUHK campus, but he sees a role for himself locally. “I went to France for my first PhD, where I enjoyed a totally different learning experience. I picked up a new language, got to know people from all over the world, and met my wife! I could’ve stayed there, but I opted to return to Hong Kong. I’m glad I made that decision.”
“I feel honoured to have served as the fifth President of EdUHK during a time of significant transformation, helping fulfil the decade-long aspiration of alumni, friends and supporters of achieving the university title. Hong Kong is my home, and I will continue to contribute to the community in any capacity I can,” he says.
Learning is fun
Professor Cheung is a champion of pleasurable learning, which he believes can effectively arouse students’ interest. Since 2018, the University has launched an array of animation projects to provide easily accessible learning resources for teachers, children and parents alike. To date, the animated videos and songs, covering Chinese language and history, classical Chinese literature, renowned historical figures and life education, have accumulated nearly 10 million views.