Teaching and Learning at The University of Hong Kong HKU

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1. Introduction

1.1 Introduction

1.1.1The University’s undergraduate (Ug) and taught postgraduate (TPg) curricula and programmes are supported by a robust and effective teaching and learning (T&L) infrastructure, and quality assurance (QA) and quality enhancement (QE) mechanisms.1 The research postgraduate (RPg) and professional doctorate (PD) curricula are supported by a separate system (see Chapters 8 and 9).

1.1.2 The Ug and TPg curricula are underpinned by an Outcomes Based Approach to Student Learning (OBASL), which enables the learning outcomes, pedagogy and assessment in individual curricula to be aligned with the University’s educational aims. Common learning experiences are developed for all Ug students throughout their university studies so that there are common attributes that they are expected to have acquired upon graduation. Building on the Ug model, the University has also introduced standardised features and regulations for its TPg curricula.

1.2 Outcomes Based Approach to Student Learning

1.2.1 The adoption of OBASL facilitates the alignment of learning outcomes, pedagogy and assessment in individual curricula. The University’s educational aims and Institutional Learning Outcomes (ILOs) inform Programme Learning Outcomes (PLOs) and Course Learning Outcomes (CLOs) (http://tl.hku.hk/tl/#aimsug”). The University’s implementation of OBASL focuses on:

  • the articulation of a clear set of University educational aims;
  • the enhancement of student learning experiences in ways to achieve the University educational aims; and
  • the development of evaluation processes to monitor students’ achievement of the educational aims with a clear focus on QE as well as QA.

1.2.2 OBASL employs standards-referenced assessment. The associated assessment practices and regulations are in the University Assessment Policy (see Chapter 5; Appendix 5.1).

1.2.3 Faculties are responsible for developing PLOs to align with the University educational aims and programme-level statements on assessment standards (i.e. grade descriptors). Course Coordinators are charged with developing CLOs to align with the PLOs, reviewing and aligning T&L activities and assessment processes with the CLOs, and ensuring that students understand that alignment.

1.2.4 Under the PLO Achievement Scheme introduced in 2017-18, Faculties are required to create for every Ug and TPg programme a PLO Assessment Plan (PLOAP), and complete a corresponding PLO Achievement Report (PLOAR) at least every three years. The Scheme aims to evaluate the students’ achievement of PLOs of the programme on which they are enrolled, on the basis of direct evidence of their learning (see Chapter 4).

1.2.5 The Centre for the Enhancement of Teaching and Learning (CETL) provides support to Faculties in developing PLOs, CLOs, and in implementing the PLO Achievement Scheme and standards-referenced assessment (http://www.cetl.hku.hk/obasl/). The Student Information System (SIS) charts the mapping, alignment and achievement of the educational aims at programme and course levels by individual curricula, and produces an online course template for each degree.

1.3 Graduate attributes

1.3.1 As reflected in the University educational aims which are benchmarked against the highest international standards (Appendix 1.1), graduates of the Ug curricula are expected to have acquired the following attributes:

  • the capability to pursue academic and professional excellence, critical intellectual enquiry and life-long learning;
  • the ability to tackle novel situations and ill-defined problems;
  • the ability for critical self-reflection, greater understanding of others, and upholding personal and professional ethics;
  • a capacity for intercultural communication and global citizenship;
  • competence in communication and collaboration; and
  • a capacity for leadership and advocacy for the improvement of the human condition.

1.3.2 The TPg curricula can be broadly classified into professional and non-professional curricula. Six educational aims, and the corresponding ILOs, for TPg curricula have been formulated, including five main aims which are applicable to all TPg curricula, and a sixth one that applies only to professional curricula (Appendix 1.2). As articulated in these aims, graduates of the TPg curricula are expected to have acquired the following attributes:

  • a capacity for critical intellectual enquiry and acquiring up-to-date knowledge and research skills in a discipline or profession;
  • the capability to apply knowledge and research skills to practice or theoretical exploration, and demonstrate originality and creativity;
  • the ability to tackle novel situations and ill-defined problems;
  • competence in collaboration and communication of disciplinary knowledge to specialists and the general public;
  • awareness of and adherence to personal and professional ethics; and
  • leadership and advocacy skills in a profession for graduates of professional curricula.

1.4 Regulations and student handbooks for undergraduate and taught postgraduate curricula

1.4.1 Academic regulations are approved by the Senate to govern the progress of study leading to qualifications awarded by the University. All Ug and TPg curricula are governed by the General Regulations (Appendix 1.3), and in addition, the Regulations for First Degree Curricula (Appendix 1.4) and the Regulations for TPg Curricula (Appendix 1.5) respectively, which make provisions for definitions of terminologies, admission requirements, period of study, progression of studies, assessment, requirements for graduation, exemption, and classification of awards. Under the University regulations, curriculum-specific regulations are formulated by Faculties and approved by the Senate.

1.4.2 The above regulations are complemented by policies and procedures drawn up at University, Faculty and curriculum/programme levels, as applicable.

1.4.3 The Undergraduate Handbook (http://www.handbook.hku.hk/ug/) and the Postgraduate Handbook (Coursework Programmes) (http://www.handbook.hku.hk/tpg/) respectively provide newly admitted undergraduate students and taught postgraduate students with essential information about the University. The Handbooks are updated annually.

1.5 Common features of undergraduate curricula

1.5.1 In the conception of the Ug curriculum, a curriculum is defined as “the totality of experiences that is afforded to students to achieve specific educational aims”. To achieve the University educational aims and to operationalise the Ug curriculum goal and design principles (Appendix 1.6), the Senate approved in April 2008 the adoption of an enabling curriculum structure applicable to the normative 4-year Ug curriculum with flexibility for students to design their own combination of disciplinary majors, minors and electives outside of the compulsory University courses. Based on the European Credit Transfer and Accumulation System (ECTS), the University’s Credit Accumulation and Transfer Policy standardises the study load of each credit unit and in each semester and academic year (Appendix 1.7). There are provisions for flexibility in the application of these structural features to programmes with professional accreditation requirements. Every programme provides a “Credit Unit Statement” for its courses defining standard 6-credit courses according to total student commitment of learning hours, number of contact hours required, and output requirements including all assessable coursework and examinations.

1.5.2 The common features of the standard 4-year Ug degree curriculum are outlined below:

  1. Admissions

    Admissions policy, including entrance requirements, is decided by the Senate. The Senate receives annually a report on admission standards, selection and recruitment activities during the year, which enables it to review these activities with a view to enhancing them as necessary. The Admissions Guidelines are at Appendix 1.8.

  2. Credit unit system and enabling curriculum structure
    • Each credit unit consists of 25 ± 5 hours of student learning activities.
    • A standard Ug course is valued at 6 credits. Courses with other multiples of 3 credits within a range of 3 to 30 credits may be allowed by the Senate with good academic or professional reasons.
    • A standard 4-year Ug curriculum consists of 8 semesters (not counting the Summer Semesters), and requires the completion of 240 credits, unless otherwise approved by the Senate.  These 240 credits should consist of courses in English language enhancement (12 credits), Chinese language enhancement (6 credits) and the Common Core (CC) Curriculum (36 credits); disciplinary courses to fulfil the requirements of a combination of at least one major programme and other optional major/minor programmes (or in respect of the professional curricula, a professional core and a minor programme, where applicable); and any electives to make up the balance (Appendix 1.9).   
    • Unless otherwise approved by the Senate on exceptional grounds, a major programme should normally be of 72 to 96 credits and a minor programme of 36 to 48 credits, inclusive of any pre-requisite courses. Each major programme or professional core should incorporate a capstone experience of not less than 6 credits.
    • A semester normally consists of 30 credits.  Students may choose to vary their study load within a range of 24 to 36 credits in each semester, subject to a maximum study load of 72 credits in one academic year (inclusive of the Summer Semester), and a maximum curriculum study load of 288 credits for the normative period of study, except where candidates are required to make up for failed credits.
    • The Senate is the approving authority for a waiver of the maximum curriculum load, a case of which must be made by the relevant Faculty Board with justifications normally by the end of the add-drop period of the final semester of study of the applicant concerned.
  3. Graduation requirements

    To fulfil the requirements for graduation, candidates should have successfully completed the following requirements in addition to the curriculum requirements prescribed in the degree regulations and syllabuses within the maximum period of registration:

    • 12 credits of English language enhancement courses (including the 6-credit Core University English course and a 6-credit “English-in-the-Discipline” course);
    • 6 credits of Chinese language enhancement course;
    • 36 credits of CC courses (comprising at least one and not more than two courses from each Area of Inquiry with not more than 24 credits of courses being selected within one academic year except where candidates are required to make up for failed courses); and
    • a capstone experience as specified in the syllabuses of the curriculum.
  4. Registration period

    The maximum period of registration is equivalent to 150% of the curriculum’s normative period of study as specified in the degree regulations, provided that a residual fraction of an academic year so calculated be extended to one full academic year.

  5. Advanced Standing, credit transfer and exemption 2
    • Students may, with the approval of the relevant Faculty Board, be granted Advanced Standing for approved studies completed before admission to the curriculum, and/or transfer credits for courses completed at other institutions.  For students in a 4-year Ug curriculum, a maximum of 120 credits of Advanced Standing/credit transfer may be granted, on the condition that students who are awarded Advanced Standing must accumulate a minimum of 120 credits during their candidature through study at this University or from transfer of credits for courses completed at other institutions, subject to the provisions of Statute III.5 and Regulation UG2(b) of the Regulations for First Degree Curricula.
    • Exemptions from curriculum requirements may be granted by the Faculty Board, on condition that candidates must replace the number of exempted credits with courses of the same credit value.
    • Further details on the granting of Advanced Standing, credit transfer and exemption in the Ug curricula are set out in the University’s Credit Accumulation and Transfer Policy (Appendix 1.7).

1.6 Language provision and support

1.6.1 Language proficiency and academic literacy are critical to the achievement of the educational aims of the Ug curriculum. Aside from a number of major/minor programmes in languages offered for students’ selection, language enhancement programmes are made an integral component of the Ug curricula (see Sections 7.17 and 7.18). As the University medium of instruction, English clearly plays an important role in the achievement of the educational aims. The growing importance of China in the world political and economic arena also requires that our graduates attain a high level of written Chinese and spoken Putonghua so that they can serve as the bridge between China and the rest of the world.

1.6.2 In the reform for the 4-year Ug curriculum, the Senate mandated:

  1. that to enhance intercultural communication, English (both written and spoken) be used as the lingua franca on campus;
  2. that all formal T&L activities, including lectures, tutorials and, as far as possible, in-class group discussions be conducted in English, except for courses in Chinese language, Chinese literature and Chinese culture (excluding CC courses), Chinese language education and Chinese medicine, courses in foreign languages, and for courses which involve interaction with non-English speaking community members;
  3. that consistent with a focus on English for academic study, the amount of English language support be enhanced from 6 credits to 12 credits, inclusive of a Core University English course and a collaborative model of language support between the Centre for Applied English Studies (CAES) and the Faculties developed in the form of a number of “English-in-the-Discipline” courses with intensive guidance (particularly in reading and writing) integrated into respective disciplinary studies; and
  4. that students be required to take 6 credits of Chinese language enhancement course offered by the School of Chinese.

1.6.3 Candidates admitted before 2018-19 who have achieved Level 5** in English Language in the Hong Kong Diploma of Secondary Education Examination (HKDSEE), or an equivalent qualification approved by the Senate, may be granted exemption from the Core University English course by the Faculty Board in consultation with CAES. For candidates in the 2018-19 intake and thereafter who have achieved Level 5 or above in English Language in the HKDSEE, or equivalent, they are exempted from the Core University English requirement and it is optional for them to take the Core University English course, or an elective course of the same credit value in lieu. Those who have not studied Chinese language during their secondary education may be granted exemption from the Chinese language enhancement course by the Faculty Board in consultation with the School of Chinese.  Candidates should take an elective course of the same credit value in lieu of the exempted course, which can be a written Chinese or Putonghua course, or a general Chinese language or culture course offered by the Chinese Language Centre of the School of Chinese for non-native speakers (Appendix 1.10).

1.7 Teaching-research nexus

1.7.1 The University has put in place policies and strategies in respect of research-informed teaching for more conscious and systematic implementation across the board. The core elements of these policies and strategies are as follows:

  1. The majority of the teaching staff are active researchers making recognised contributions in their fields.  Research seminars are held regularly in Faculties where expert academics disseminate research findings to staff and students.
  2. The University’s T&L, curriculum design and QA are research-led and evidence-based. Specifically, Teaching Development Grant (TDG) project outcomes have been incorporated into curriculum design, where applicable.
  3. All students experience a research-informed T&L environment which promotes inquiry-based learning.  Capstone experiences, which are an integral component of the Ug and taught Master’s curricula, are typically inquiry-based and involve research skills in the investigation of problems, issues, phenomena, and data collection and data analysis.  Other Faculty initiatives designed to promote student participation in advanced research activities include research fellowship schemes, research colloquia, and appointment of senior-year students as research assistants in research projects.
  4. The Undergraduate Research Fellowship Programme (URFP) offers opportunities for academically outstanding Ug students, normally in their final year of study, to undertake research under the guidance and supervision of academics who have a strong research track record and experience in training RPg students.  Students enrolled in the URFP are required to undertake a research study.  If research internship forms an essential part of the research study, the enrolled students will be considered for awards for undertaking such research internships locally, in the Mainland or overseas. The URFP participants are eligible to enroll in specified postgraduate courses, and those who perform well under the Programme will be considered for early admission to RPg programmes of the University. The URFP can count towards the capstone experience or experiential learning (in research) requirements as the Faculty deems fit. To provide more research learning opportunities to students, the University has partnered with the University of Warwick to allow undergraduate students participating in HKU’s URFP and Warwick’s Undergraduate Research Support Scheme to carry out a non-credit bearing summer research project under the guidance of an allocated supervisor at the other university. A Working Group on the URFP, chaired by the Vice-President and Pro-Vice-Chancellor (Teaching and Learning), has been established under the University Research Committee to oversee the implementation of the Programme (Appendix 1.11).  

1.8 Common features of taught postgraduate curricula

1.8.1 The Senate approved in March 2015 an institutional framework of the curriculum structure of TPg curricula. The following features are also listed in the Credit Accumulation and Transfer Policy (Appendix 1.7):

  1. Credit unit system

    By modelling on the Ug system, a standardised credit unit system which is based on the ECTS is adopted for the TPg curricula. The standard study load per credit consists of 25 hours (± 5 hours) of learning activities. The normative credit requirements are: (a) 60-90 credits for a Master’s degree or an advanced diploma; (b) 45-60 credits for a postgraduate diploma; and (c) 30-45 credits for a postgraduate certificate. Individual courses should be valued in multiples of 3 credits, and a capstone experience of not less than 6 credits should be required as a compulsory and integral part of each taught Master’s degree curriculum.

  2. Cross-listing of Ug courses

    Cross-listing of Ug courses in a TPg curriculum may be allowed (with the credits earned to count towards satisfying the curriculum requirements), which is subject to either a cap of 15% of the total credit requirement or 12 credits in the case of a Master’s degree or an advanced diploma, and either 15% of the total credit requirement or 6 credits in the case of a postgraduate diploma or a postgraduate certificate, where so justified by academic needs and subject to the Academic Board’s approval.

  3. Graduation requirements

    To be eligible for graduation, candidates shall fulfil the requirements prescribed in the regulations and syllabuses governing the curriculum within the maximum period of registration, which in the case of a taught Master’s degree shall normally include the successful completion of a capstone experience as specified in the syllabuses of the curriculum.

  4. Registration period

    A maximum period of registration of up to two additional years on top of the normative period of study should be stipulated for all TPg curricula, for both full-time and part-time modes of study.  Individual curricula may stipulate a shorter maximum period of study.

  5. Advanced Standing, credit transfer and exemption
    • At the discretion of the Faculty Board, candidates may be granted Advanced Standing, credit transfer or course exemption in recognition of studies completed in a cognate TPg curriculum, or attainment of a professional qualification acceptable for fulfilment of the curriculum requirements. 
    • The total credits that may be granted for Advanced Standing should not exceed a maximum of 20%, and the combined total credits that may be granted for Advanced Standing and credit transfer should not exceed a maximum of 50% of the total credits normally required in a curriculum.
    • Exemptions from the curriculum requirements may be granted by the Faculty Board, except in the case of a capstone experience. Approval for exemption of a capstone experience may be granted only by the Senate with good reasons.  Candidates must replace the number of exempted credits with courses of the same credit value.

1 “Curriculum” means the entire study requirements for the award of an Ug degree or a TPg qualification. “Programme” refers to the study requirements for a professional core, a major or a minor of an Ug curriculum; or in the case of a TPg curriculum, a discipline/field of study.
2“Advanced Standing” refers to the granting of credits in recognition of studies completed successfully before admission to the curriculum.  “Credit transfer” refers to the granting of credits for courses completed by students at other institutions during their candidature.  Students are not required to complete any further courses for those requirements for which they have been granted Advanced Standing or credit transfer.   “Exemption” is granted from a particular course or curriculum requirement and candidates must take another course of the same credit value in lieu of the exempted course. The information of the exemption for the Core University English course is set out in paragraph 1.6.3.

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