Defining "soulware" in higher education
In the rainy days of early spring, my book on higher education The Soulware of Higher Education was published by Hong Kong Commercial Press and Commonwealth Publishing Company in Taipei.
Trigger for the book
I arrived in Hong Kong on 14 May 2008 to take up the presidency at City University of Hong Kong, a higher education institute I was unfamiliar with at the time; unfamiliar because all I knew about Hong Kong came from a previous visit to The Hong Kong University of Science and Technology. The rest of Hong Kong was a blank to me. As was I to Hong Kong, I assume.
Perhaps I was predestined to work in Hong Kong. It is true that, after studying and working in the US for 34 years, it was a fairly circuitous route that brought me here, and ultimately a fairly eye-opening experience. Prior to coming here in 2008, I had been very interested in what was happening in higher education in Taiwan, and I was aware of the reforms being carried out within the rigid education system in mainland Chinese universities. At the same time, I had visited South Korea on multiple occasions because I had supervised a number of South Korean doctoral students and had taken some time to study the South Korean higher education, its science and technology development as well as its innovations.
These experiences and observations were the trigger for this book. Divided into 28 chapters, it outlines the development of higher education in Hong Kong, the mainland and Taiwan from four different angles: internationalisation, integration of teaching and research, quality and evaluation, and creativity and innovation. My views on higher education are explicitly expressed in these chapters, with occasional comparisons of the differences and similarities in higher education between British, Japanese and the US universities. The book ends with an epilogue defining "soulware".
Focus of the book
Internationalisation is a much-talked about subject on both sides of the Strait. But many people forget that it is not a formality; nor does it simply mean an emphasis on learning English, or signing agreements for faculty and student exchanges. An internationalised university should offer up-to-date curricula and promote advanced research, cultivate innovative talent for the new era and pursue sustained social development for humanity.
A university's curriculum must be of high quality and be cross-disciplinary in response to societal demands. For certain key areas, such as energy and the environment, creative media, biomedical engineering and smart city, trans-disciplinary efforts must be made to find a niche for development. In promoting university innovation, one should avoid thinking that teaching and research are not related. While researchers need to instill research in classroom teaching, teachers need to be updated about the latest scientific and technological developments as well, and be able to define and solve open-ended questions. Our society should stay focused on the right way, steering away from "micro-management" and instead should cultivate students for social advancement in a dynamic and creative way.
What is the use of a degree then? This may still be a perplexing question.
Never, ever, think that a degree from a prestigious university is a pass to a good career. All roads lead to learning. A learned person does not necessarily have to have a college degree. To the contrary, a person with a higher degree may not be a learned person in many circumstances. At the same time, a person with great learning may not be of any utility if his/her learning cannot be put to practice. Therefore, universities should disseminate learning and academic acknowledge, and encourage putting learning and professional knowledge to practice, instead of being satisfied only with granting degrees.
Higher education on both sides of the Strait is less than ideal in many areas. What is missing is summed up in the following poem on "soulware":
Teaching is empty without devotion of the heart,
I once said, "The distance between mountains is the clouds". Hearing my comment, Professor Liu, who is a very smart academic, replied, "The distance between souls is the body". He seemed to have understood the reason for my use of the word "soulware". His reply recognises the two concepts encapsulated in my new book, i.e., the integration of teaching and research as well as the integration of body and soul.
Research after all remains the utmost art.
Barely equipped with hardware and software,
Lacks still it does, devoid of proper soulware.
Well said! Wise Professor Liu has identified 99% of the rationale for my use of the word "soulware". But it is still not the whole picture. Who can perceive the remaining 1%?
"Soulware" refers to a kind of culture, a mindset, a habitual behaviour, and a way of thinking. My book analyses higher education from different angles and explains by citing various examples how being equipped with complete sets of hardware and software is at most an essential condition for building a perfect university. It will not be sufficient to promote advanced academic research. Nor will the antiquated comments by "greater" and "lesser" masters be the solution to perfecting our universities.
The essence of internationalisation is the insight that comes from the right "soulware". This, and this only, is the focus of The Soulware of Higher Education.
Royalties of the Hong Kong and Taiwan editions will be donated to student scholarships.
31 March, 2016