Blog post

Distinctiveness in a crowded field: University of Derby in Hong Kong

Professor Keith McLay, Pro Vice-Chancellor Dean of the College of Arts, Humanities & Education, shares the second instalment of some home thoughts from abroad on his overseas trip with Professor Judith Lamie, Pro Vice-Chancellor External Affairs, visiting partners old, new and prospective in China and Hong Kong.

By Professor Keith McLay - 16 October 2018

Arriving late Tuesday evening into Hong Kong, on a flight which took me back to the parochial cultural reference point of the Waltzer at Cadona's Amusement Park, Aberdeen Beach, in the late 1980s, we set about readying ourselves for a diverse range of meetings.

In no particular order, we were to meet the former UK Consul-General and now Executive Director of the Chamber of Commerce, the Chief Executive of the West Kowloon Cultural District, senior leaders of the Hong Kong Design Institute (HKDI) and the School of Higher & Professional Education (SHAPE), the Director of Trade at the UK Consulate-General's Department of International Trade and the local Hong Kong Director of the British Council.

The importance of a distinctive offer

Historically, as an entrepôt for far eastern trade, Hong Kong has always been crowded out by competing interests and so too now for the higher education sector; it's rare for a UK university not to have a presence of one form or another. This places a premium on the distinctiveness of the University of Derby's offer, a point reinforced in each of the meetings.

Another common refrain was that Hong Kong faces the same contemporary skills gap demographic as the UK, particularly in the realms of engineering, construction, logistics and the creatives. This skills deficit paves the way for those modern universities, such as the University of Derby, offering research-led applied degrees with a concomitant apprenticeship offer.

With an introduction to HKDI and SHAPE, Derby's positioning as an applied university with an emergent research foundation and a rise up the league tables has not gone unnoticed. It was quickly clear that, notwithstanding HKDI's numerous other university partners, there is an appetite to work with Derby on a range of initiatives, from top-up degrees in the creative arts to PhD supervision to staff and student exchanges.

The graft now begins in earnest to bring these plans to fruition in short order and to explore various links offered via the Executive Director of the Chamber on logistics (especially online delivery) and construction.

The walk to the British Consulate

Buoyed by successful meetings with HKDI and SHAPE, and with the final appointments of the day (at the Department of International Trade and the British Council) located towards the other end of Hong Kong Island, it was decided to walk. Armed with a map, this military historian author gloried in plotting the advance on the British Consulate, only to be blocked at every turn by expressways, parkland, overly tall buildings and shopping malls.

Now, it's not unknown that the University's senior leadership has been working with an external organisation to help build collegiate Executive team leadership as part of the cultural transformation programme and indeed to that end we were all recently spotted in the Dovedale Suite in silly hats painting (you sort of had to be there but Joseph Wright it was not); well, it has worked.

With time running out, the map in shreds and moored on an island in the middle of the Queen's Expressway, our Professor of Applied Linguistics in the party diplomatically suggested that we ask someone the way. Genius. Teamwork. We arrived at the Consulate with a minute to spare.

Opportunities for Derby explored

It was just as well. In the meetings with the Directors of Trade and the British Council, doors for the University of Derby were being opened. An invitation to explore opportunities during Hong Kong's Business of Design Week 2019, when the UK is the host nation, was followed by a similar offer to participate in the British Council's new Festival of Ideas, SPARK: The Science & Art of Creativity in January 2019.

Again, there is much work to do and commitment across the University required to take advantage of these openings but the potential to enhance the international experience of our University community cannot be gainsaid.

During the typical Hong Kong white-knuckle taxi ride back to the airport, the reflection was that the Hong Kong-leg of the trip demonstrated that there is an emerging international narrative for the University. TEF Gold, Top 30 in The Guardian League Table, Top 250 Global Young Universities, Executive leadership connections, and a diverse portfolio ranging from engineering to health to science to business to creative arts and to the traditional humanities and social science, all with an applied focus, is catching the eye as a distinctive offer. The challenge for the University is the nourishment of this global chronicle and the appreciation of the manifest benefits.

Read the first instalment of Professor McLay's blog, From historical legacies to gendered linguistics: the cultural richness of transnational education.

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About the author

Keith McLay

Professor Keith McLay
Provost - Learning and Teaching

Professor Keith McLay is the Provost for Learning and Teaching.

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