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Professor Leonard K Cheng

President and Chair Professor of Economics

Professor Leonard K Cheng

Research making a real-world difference

Professor Leonard K Cheng, President of Lingnan University and Chair Professor of Economics, says he is proud of the research work being conducted by both the university’s faculty and by its PhD and MPhil students in the Research Postgraduate Programmes.

In addition, he is keen to highlight the impact of many of these projects. “Beyond publication in prestigious journals, we also want the work done at Lingnan to have an impact outside academia,” says Professor Cheng. 

Research impact can, of course, take a variety of forms. Specific findings can inform changes in social and economic policies. They may lead to the creation of new products and services driven by technology. They can point to new, inclusive ways of doing business, in the form of innovative social enterprises. Or their effects may be more subtle.

Professor Cheng cites two, from among numerous examples, of the ways in which Lingnan’s research is helping to bring changes to the wider society.

Improving the wellbeing of the elderly

Founded in 1998, the Asia Pacific Institute of Ageing Studies (APIAS) is based at Lingnan. “The Institute focuses on ageing issues, both here and in the rest of the world, with, of course, a greater focus on Hong Kong and China,” he explains.

APIAS conducts two types of research: academic research, which can be thought of as more rigorous and intellectually challenging; and policy research, which analyses the impact of policies, for the purpose of either rationalising these policies or proposing new ones. “The Institute’s findings are used to advise governments, train workers in this field, and identify new issues to be studied.”

One of APIAS’s numerous projects examined the work of Hong Kong welfare NGOs in the Mainland. Another evaluated the effectiveness of a pilot housing project which sought to make domestic modifications that would enable the elderly to achieve “ageing in place”.

While the Institute’s work falls primarily under the remit of the Social Sciences Department, as in most universities today, Lingnan encourages faculty and research students from different disciplines to work together and exchange ideas.

“Real-world issues cross disciplinary boundaries,” Professor Cheng notes. A study related to urban living, for example, will be inherently multi-faceted and will not fall neatly within the parameters of one discipline.

Giving Hong Kong history a future in schools

For many years, the Department of History’s Professor Lau Chi-pang has been leading studies which seek to uncover the stories and everyday details of Hong Kong’s past. Now, alongside a Knowledge Transfer project commissioned by the Hong Kong Museum of History, the Hong Kong Jockey Club Hong Kong History Learning Programme aims to develop Lingnan’s research findings about local history into a comprehensive set of teaching and learning resources for primary and secondary schools.

Geography, politics, the economy, society, and culture, are some of the areas that will be covered in a project that aims to give younger students, and their teachers, an understanding of the way in which Hong Kong has developed and changed.

“Moving forward, we would also be interested in getting additional funding to do a systematic study of Hong Kong’s history, very much in the tradition of China’s area studies,” says Professor Cheng.

The outlook for research in Hong Kong and at Lingnan

“We are able to draw the interest of professors from both China and the West to come here and engage in research,” he points out. This, he believes, is largely because of the unique geographical and political position Hong Kong occupies. “We operate under ‘one country, two systems’, so we enjoy a degree of freedom that is not enjoyed equally in other places.”

Partly because of this special status, and partly because of the redefining of China’s global importance, funding can be increasingly leveraged from a variety of locations. “These days the study of, say, Chinese literature is no longer the monopoly of professors in China. Different centres of excellence in this field have already emerged outside the country. Hong Kong provides a convenient meeting place for scholars from mainland China and the rest of the world to interact, not only because of its visa regime but also because it enjoys a high degree of academic freedom that is not necessarily available in some of these other places.”

Looking forward, Lingnan is particularly keen to encourage work in seven strategic research themes, Professor Cheng says. These are: Economic and International Development; Comparative Social Policy, and Governance and Social Justice; Business Ethics, Entrepreneurship and Corporate Sustainability; Interdisciplinary Humanities; Transcultural Studies; Art, Performance and the Contemporary World; and, Smart City and Urban Innovation.