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Lingnan University, APHERP and IAFOR co-host the Conference for Higher Education Research, and the Asian Conference on the Liberal Arts

08 Nov 2019


Following the overwhelming success of last year’s edition, Lingnan University, the International Academic Forum (IAFOR), and the Asia Pacific Higher Education Research Partnership (APHERP) co-hosted the Conference for Higher Education Research (CHER) 2019. The theme of CHER 2019 was Uncertain Futures: Repurposing Higher Education, a title chosen to reflect the precarious nature of global socio-economic development today. The Asian Conference on the Liberal Arts (ACLA) 2019 was held alongside CHER, under the theme Uncertain Futures: The Role of Liberal Arts Education.

Dr Bernard Charnwut Chan

Dr Bernard Charnwut Chan

Speakers at both conferences discussed how a formal education and a liberal arts education could be redesigned to prepare populations for life in societies that are moving very quickly towards uncertain futures. The discussions covered the positive and negative impact of globalisation, which is transforming the nature of work and how people interact with each other. Such conditions, participants said, are further complicated by Artificial Intelligence (AI) and robotics, both of which are replacing routine jobs. This has resulted in new socioeconomic challenges for educational institutions, governments, and researchers, speakers said.

The conferences were attended by researchers specialising in higher education, senior university administrators, government officials, policy analysts, and students. Attendees came together to explore how societies could limit the adverse aspects of the uncertainty that underlies the future. Around 120 speakers and over 80 postgraduate students attended from approximately 30 countries and regions. Participants came from Asia, Oceania, Europe, North and Central America, and Africa.

Professor Leonard K. Cheng

Professor Leonard K. Cheng

Keynote and featured speeches were given by Prof Leonard K. Cheng (President, Lingnan University), Prof Francis Green (University College of London, UK), Prof Simon Marginson (University of Oxford, UK), Prof Adam R. Nelson (University of Wisconsin-Madison, US), Prof Deane Neubauer (East-West Centre, US), and Prof Joshua Mok (Vice President, Lingnan University). Dr Bernard Charnwut Chan (Executive Council member of the Government of the Hong Kong SAR), gave the opening remarks. Dr Chan emphasised the need to establish strong ties between educational institutions and governments due to the uncertain socioeconomic futures faced by various societies around the globe.

In a speech entitled Boya Education in China: Lessons from Liberal Arts Education in the US and Hong Kong, Prof Leonard K. Cheng discussed the importance of China’s “boya” education (BYE) in the era of computer-based automation and AI technology. BYE has a tradition similar to that of a liberal arts education (LAE) in the West. Prof Cheng argued that BYE needs to occupy a central role in the undergraduate curriculum to achieve its goals in China, by referring to examples of BYE in Mainland China, and LAE in the US and Hong Kong. Prof Cheng said that institutions need to rethink professional and technical training in BYE and LAE, as well as the combined benefits of undergraduate and postgraduate studies, namely, exposure to both STEM and humanities and social sciences.

In a speech entitled Equal but Different: Global and Regional Implications of the Rise of China in Universities and Science, Prof Simon Marginson argued that the coming decades may witness a situation where rapid growth and improvements in China are impeded by geopolitical conflict. This could be the result of restrictions on both the mobility of people and technology exchange. But China’s systems of higher education and science are now sufficiently developed, and self-sufficient enough, to sustain a strong regional and global role under such conditions, he added. Prof Marginson also discussed the similarities and differences between universities in China and Euro-America, and the implications of the emerging bipolar world for the evolution of both global higher education and education in China.

Professor Joshua Mok

Professor Joshua Mok

Prof Francis Green spoke on the subject of Graduate Employment and Under-Employment, topics closely related to those discussed by Prof Marginson. He discussed the issues pertaining to the availability of avenues of employment for new graduates in view of globalisation, changing economic characteristics, and fortunes of societies. Prof Green argued that the fact that the graduate labour market is not a typical short-term micro-market is at the root of the issue, and said that an equilibrating price-mechanism would ensure that the supply and demand for graduate skills remain closely aligned. Due to the institutional and macroeconomic differences that exist across nations, the risk of unemployment for graduates is expected to vary from place to place, said Prof Green.

Speakers including Prof Joshua Mok furthered the discussions by offering theoretical and empirical perspectives to aid the understanding of the uncertain futures that are confronting societies. The speakers also discussed ways to confront problems by using new human resources methodologies.

Attendees deemed the conference a major success, and all participants said they were satisfied with the academic and social content of the programme. Organisers said they had achieved the goal of debating the higher education needs of the future, and establishing how to repurpose higher education for the coming uncertain times. Students, researchers, and policymakers all agreed that they must define the roles they will play to ensure a successful completion of the tasks that lie ahead.   

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