Blog post

A Hong Kong Apprenticeship Agenda

Professor Keith McLay, Pro Vice-Chancellor Dean of the College of Arts, Humanities & Education, discusses his recent trip to Hong Kong and the British Council's SPARK Festival of Creativity.

By Professor Keith McLay - 30 January 2019

With the close of the British Council's SPARK Festival and the start of a new week, three additional colleagues hove into view to join Professor Judith Lamie and I promoting the University of Derby in Hong Kong. First and second, Martyn Kendrick, Deputy Dean of the College of Business, Law & Social Sciences, and Marcus Warren, International Academic Director from the same College, are what in the former Foreign and Commonwealth days would be termed 'Old Hong Kong Hands'.

Then, that might have meant anything from spy to diplomat to merchant adventurer working for one of the original Hong Kong trading houses, but now none apply and it simply recognises Martyn's and Marcus' 20-year history travelling to, and working in, Hong Kong. Third, Associate Professor Dr Joanna Poon, alumni of Hong Kong Polytechnic University and someone who literally and metaphorically can apply the University's Strategic Framework in Hong Kong by opening doors for everyone.

The agenda for the three days was pretty full: meetings with the leadership and colleagues from the British Consul, the Vocational Training Council (VTC), the School for Higher and Professional Education (SHAPE), the Technological & Higher Education Institute (THEi), Hong Kong Polytechnic University (HKPU), the English Schools Foundation (ESF), Gammon Construction, and hosting a round table discussion with the Logistics Committee of the British Chamber of Commerce. Across each of these meetings, a common theme emerged: the Hong Kong skills gap and consequential interest in Derby's apprenticeship agenda and its applied degree offer.

Although Martyn and Marcus provided a masterclass to the British Chamber's round table, with the serried ranks of Hong Kong executives latching on to Derby's degree-level and executive education in logistics and the depth of Joanna's contacts yielding almost immediately scope for a student exchange and a Memorandum of Understanding with HKPU, the discussions didn't always run smoothly.

Over an 11-course Chinese lunch, this historian author was told (half in jest, full in earnest) by the President of the VTC that he spoke relatively intelligibly for a Scot and, when referring in discussion to the mid-1970s Hong Kong Chief of Police corruption case, he apparently betrayed his advanced years. Sorely tempted to suggest that my knowledge of the latter was historical (and thus professional) rather than age-based, redemption came in the meeting with the Executive Director of Gammon Construction, the largest construction company in Hong Kong.

Now, that meeting contained an unlikely line-up: a Professor of Applied Linguistics and a Professor of Military History in with Gammon's Engineering Executive. Who knew that Applied Linguistics these days entails knowledge of minerals, extraction techniques, concrete composition and Building Information Modelling (BIM); while the historian in the party scored a hit with the Executive Director by ruminating (intelligibly, and youthfully, one likes to think, Mrs VTC President) on the history of Gammon's parent company, Jardine Matheson, as one of the original Hongs.

Ninety minutes later and we left with agreement to explore links and collaboration with Gammon Academy (the company's training wing) on executive education, CPD, online degrees and Derby's apprenticeship model.

The point has been made before that Hong Kong is a crowded education market which demands provider differentiation. On this trip, through participation in the SPARK Festival, the evidenced promotion of Derby's leitmotif as an applied University of today and for tomorrow, and its apprenticeship agenda, our distinction has gained form; we have a way in. Much work will now need to follow to consolidate the opening.

For further information contact the Corporate Communications team at or call 01332 593953.

About the author

Keith McLay

Professor Keith McLay
Provost - Learning and Teaching

Professor Keith McLay is the Provost for Learning and Teaching.

View full staff profileView full staff profile