Meeting the demand for a Postgraduate Research Programme in Urban Studies
Today, half the world's population lives in cities - and the global trend towards increasing urbanisation shows no signs of slowing down. Along with the advantages that can come with metropolitan life, such as proximity to the hub of economic growth, there’s often a price to pay in the form of issues such as increased pollution and crime. More topically, the rapid spread of the COVID-19 virus in cities has highlighted another risk of high-density living.
Reflecting the growing concern among the wider public, there has been mounting interest in the types of scientific and professional training that would enable graduates to analyse urban problems, devise solutions, and effect real, positive change.
In response to this demand, and to build on the success of its existing Master of Cities and Governance programme, Lingnan University plans to launch a Research Postgraduate MPhil/PhD Programme in Urban Studies in September 2023.
Lingnan: a natural home for such a programme
Prof Yau Yung, the professor of urban studies at Lingnan University, points out that in universities around the world, even the most prestigious, Urban Studies programmes tend to be housed in the schools of Urban Planning or Geography. This phenomenon exists at undergraduate, postgraduate and research level.
Whereas at Lingnan, the School of Graduate Studies (SGS) takes the lead in running such a programme. The SGS is home to experts in a very wide range of disciplines, from housing and education to business, and many faculty have research backgrounds at noteworthy institutions across the globe, such as the UK’s Oxford, LSE, Bristol and York universities, the US’s Purdue and Pittsburgh universities, the National University of Singapore, and at local institutions, including the University of Hong Kong and Chinese University of Hong Kong. “This type of environment makes trans-disciplinary research possible,” Prof Yau explains.
There is also a close relationship between the SGS and Lingnan’s academic departments, which allows for co-supervision of PhD and MPhil students by faculty from different disciplines. “So, when we talk about urban regeneration, it is not just a question of land use, we can also discuss, say, the effects of this process on the elderly, and the possible social exclusion as a result,” says Prof Yau.
What’s more, the small size of the research student body at Lingnan means that the relationship between students and their supervisor is close.
Lingnan is also ideally placed in terms of its physical location. The university is sited extremely close to Hong Kong’s border with Mainland, within China’s Greater Bay Area, and with easy access to most of Asia.
Structure of the programme
Both PhD and MPhil students on this programme will take courses to enhance their skills in areas such as academic writing, critical thinking, research design, and qualitative and quantitative research methods. They will attend workshops on topics such as research ethics, and seminars in which their proposed research topics will be discussed, and honed, in partnership with faculty members. They will also be provided with training in the use of technologies such as Geographic Information System, and in the creation and use of infographics to communicate their findings.
“Lingnan University is a liberal arts university and we want to make sure that the research we conduct has a real impact on society,” Prof Yau notes. “We stress on having impact with care.”
This concept of care encompasses everything from encouraging entrepreneurship to revitalising Hong Kong’s heritage.
The SGS currently emphasises several key areas of research in urban studies. These are: the housing crisis in Hong Kong and Asian cities; urbanisation and urban regeneration; housing and neighbourhood governance, and development and conservation. However, because of the scope for co-supervision of research projects students on the Research Postgraduate MPhil/PhD Programme in Urban Studies programme can choose topics in other areas.
Students from seemingly non-relevant academic backgrounds are welcome to apply for a place on this programme as long as they can formulate good research proposals related to urban studies.
The future: for graduates and for the programme itself
Graduates from this programme are likely to be in demand in a number of different fields and sectors. Among the many employment possibilities open to them are: as an academic researcher in higher education institutes; as a researcher or policy advocate in a think tank; government posts working in related fields; as a member of an NGO; as a consultant or administrator in real estate companies, and; as an ESG officer in these or a variety of other private sector businesses.
Prof Yau says he would also like to see graduates strike out as entrepreneurs, setting up their own companies to achieve social objectives.
In addition, he has a vision for the future of urban studies, which is currently categorised as an interdisciplinary field. “My ambition is to turn it into a trans-disciplinary field, so we are not just integrating knowledge from different disciplines but, through a joint effort, building a new concept, or framework, that may eventually result in some kind of social innovation.”