The QS Higher Education APAC Summit 2023, a pivotal event for academics and administrators, was taken place in Kuala Lumpur from 7-9 November 2023. In a noteworthy precursor to this, Lingnan University successfully hosted a Pre-Summit APAC 2023 at its Hong Kong campus on 3 November 2023. The pre-summit was particularly focused on liberal arts, and it explored the ongoing evolution of these disciplines along with the increasing impact of technology in and beyond the classroom.

Lingnan University, in collaboration with QS (Quacquarelli Symonds), the global higher education analyst renowned for its annual World University Rankings, organised this Pre-Summit. The event was presented in a hybrid format and attracted more than 400 participants from around the Asia-Pacific region.

"China’s higher education system is experiencing significant development, with an increased emphasis on innovation, entrepreneurship, internationalisation, and student outcomes," said Prof Qin. "Lingnan University, with its historic roots in the Greater Bay Area and forward-looking vision, is committed to leading these changes. We are excited to foster global collaborations and partnerships, essential for advancing higher education in the digital era."

In his speech, Mr Ben Sowter, QS Senior Vice President, emphasised the importance of maintaining an identity focus on the arts and creativity as a fundamental pillar of the universities' foundation. "I think what we are going to see over the course of the next 10 to 20 years is an increased respect and a more valued place in the international higher education sector for universities that put those priorities forward as central to their identity," he added.

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Lingnan Pre-Summit highlights the increasing power of technology

With technology playing an ever larger part in the world of academia, leading institutions must be ready to rise to the challenge and make the most of new opportunities.

That was the central message of the keynote speech delivered by Professor Michael Hui, Vice-Rector of Academic Affairs at the University of Macau (UM) at the Pre-Summit APAC 2023 held on November 3.

This hybrid event was hosted by Lingnan University in partnership with QS (Quacquarelli Symonds), the global higher education analyst, and drew a 300-plus audience from around the Asia-Pacific region in the lead-up to the QS Higher Education APAC Summit 2023 held in Kuala Lumpur from 7-9 November.

Taking as his theme the need for liberal arts universities to embrace change in order to adapt and thrive in the digital era, Professor Hui highlighted a number of essentials. These included integrating the use of technology in all the different aspects of campus life, fostering interdisciplinary collaboration, and developing adaptable skills in the classroom.

To provide further context, he also outlined UM‘s practical strategies for the successful implementation for online and blended learning, as well as for promoting lifelong learning in a world where rapid change is a constant.

“Digital technologies are shifting the development pathway of today’s higher education, in particular quality improvement of teaching and learning, as well as the governance of higher education institutions.” Hui said.

As illustration, he pointed to the findings of a 2021 UNESCO report which highlighted how computers and the internet are changing the ways of creation, collection, transmission, validation and application of knowledge. And he noted how the progressive use at UM of everything from simple software to ChatGPT showed students to be more motivated and to have better understanding of the concepts and theories covered in the classroom.

But there are also wider implications for the humanities and social sciences in terms of how to approach research, curricula, subject development, and cultivating talent

“New technologies like big data and artificial intelligence are tools that can be applied to facilitate the discovery, understanding, and dealing with problems and challenges in the real world,” Hui said. “However, to make this happen, professors and students from different traditional disciplines must have some minimal knowledge of these new tools and the chance to work with people who are proficient.”

As a result, the term “interdisciplinarity” is becoming a buzzword on liberal arts campuses, even though there is sometimes an in-built reluctance that must be overcome.

Hui, though, mentioned some leading examples from around the world of how universities are collaborating to create shared platforms and successfully embracing the concept of digital humanities and social sciences.

In China, for instance, this has helped to advance research projects involving cultural heritage content and seen big data applications used to enhance studies of tourism management. Elsewhere, it has led to the introduction of new master’s degree programmes in areas such as digital asset and media management and the digital economy.

Depending on their course, students could learn about topics like data mining, modelling and simulation, multimedia storytelling, information design and network analysis, and then apply these tools to answering humanistic questions.

“Essentially, these new platforms are established to straddle science and technology disciplines, the humanities and social sciences,” Hui said.

He added that the University of Macau is committed to promoting interdisciplinary research and nurturing students with the necessary outlook and talents at undergraduate and postgraduate levels.

More specifically, this has also seen the founding on an Institute of Collaborative Innovation, which currently includes dedicated research centres for cognitive and brain sciences, data science, and AI and robotics.

The skills acquired are already helping MSc students complete capstone project reports which address topics ranging from video surveillance in public places to social media sentiment, the effect to gamification in education, and modelling municipal solid waste management.

“These are all important and relevant issues our graduates will need to deal with in the real world,” Hui said. “But the institute serves as a platform on which professors from different faculties can work together on various interdisciplinary research projects. One example, which is attempting to use big data technologies to examine the impact of online user interactions on information dissemination within a community, has members coming from almost every single faculty of the university.”