Assessing Where We Are

Established in 1991, HKUST is an internationally-minded research University founded on the principle that education, original scholarship, and societal development are intimately linked and best pursued together. Fundamental to this principle is our global and humanity-oriented approach: advancement of humanity through the development of an international community and the nurturing of individuals alongside original research and knowledge transfer. These ideals support each other and are reflected in all endeavors of the University: advances in the arts and sciences, engineering, and business are strongly connected to societal issues such as sustainability and climate change; wealth disparity; social justice; geopolitical conflicts; and notably the pandemic that has transformed our world over in the past few months. 

As a prominent international University, HKUST has a profound commitment to furthering the mission of the academy: providing an open, inclusive, and free campus to support education and research of the highest quality. As an important Hong Kong institution, HKUST has a deep obligation to help address the social, political, and economic challenges that our city faces.

HKUST supports in-depth studies in selected disciplines, structured under four Schools: Science; Engineering; Business and Management; and Humanities and Social Science. Each School offers degree programs, recruits faculty, admits and educates students, and engages staff based on its scope and ambition. Our faculty independently choose and pursue their research activities, while Departments and Divisions within Schools offer home bases under an umbrella that ensures disciplines as a whole flourish. In addition to Schools, the Interdisciplinary Programs Office (IPO) encourages, facilitates, and promotes academic endeavors that do not fit neatly within a single School’s intellectual scope.

This unrestricted blue-sky framework, designed to stimulate creativity and enable discovery, is a trademark of a modern university. An important feature of HKUST's integrated approach is the support provided for the further development of the ideas and inventions generated by our University community. Going beyond initial inspiration and invention, the University assists and encourages the application of basic research through practical usage and entrepreneurship, along with other societal contributions. These knowledge transfer activities are a core component of our approach to fulfilling our primary objectives.

Overcoming Existing Boundaries 

The breadth of contemporary scholarship and the ever more complex problems facing society are challenging our traditional academic division into Schools and Disciplines. As new research directions take shape and as new expertise among faculty and students develops, the traditional disciplinary boundaries can seem restrictive. For example, the newly emerging area of Data Science requires core competencies and encompasses research directions that do not fit within any existing academic department. Similarly, the pandemic has shown the urgent need for a University structure that joins together the wide expertise (including biology, medicine, public health, advanced materials, autonomous systems and sensor technologies, integrated data analytics, economics, public policy, and ethics) required to provide mission-encouraged, system-wide solutions. 

Our Schools and IPO structures have served the University well, and we expect them to continue to do so for many years to come. Yet in order to effectively realize our broader goals, we must identify ways to not only be more hospitable to endeavors that cross disciplinary boundaries, but also to encourage systematic efforts unbounded by disciplinary definitions. While such interdisciplinary efforts are reflected and supported in HKUST's current activities, a system-wide framework, fundamentally outside our current discipline-focused structures, is needed in order to encourage and develop new and emerging frontiers. A fundamental change of this sort is not possible by merely overlaying or adjusting the existing disciplinary format. It must be done without compromising our support for established disciplinary pursuits whose intrinsic merits remain undiminished. 

Resetting Our Academic Framework 

Leading universities promote cross-disciplinary research directions in part because of their implications on addressing major societal challenges with possible implications on humanity. As both scope and integration of our research and educational endeavors evolve, we naturally expect a broadened range of activities that include not only the blue sky, curiosity-driven efforts that have formed the core of our program, but also more mission-encouraged research spurred by the grand challenges facing humanity.

HKUST is well-positioned to fulfill our institutional ambition by leading efforts to both: (1) pursue curiosity-driven investigations on topics in any discipline, whose ultimate impact may not be initially apparent (e.g., discovery of black holes, the double helix, fractals and strange attractors, the invention of the transistor), as well as (2) mount mission-encouraged, multi-faceted responses in systematic ways to identified challenges of great magnitude (e.g., space exploration, human/machine coexistence, pandemic and public health, inequality and inequity, and global sustainability), whose success requires expertise from various disciplines.

To cover the entire spectrum spanning pure scholarship, implementable solutions, practical adoption, and entrepreneurship and transfer of knowledge beyond the University, both disciplinary and cross-disciplinary activities are needed. Nurturing both curiosity-driven and mission-encouraged endeavors is critical for the future of the University and the development of academia as a whole. However, these two distinct approaches lead naturally to different degree programs and underlying academic structures. 

A primary focus of our Strategic Plan is the conceptualization and implementation of this dual support through enlarged resources and new physical infrastructures. The development and addition of resources and infrastructure that are supportive of both, encouraging cooperation without creating unhealthy competition, is a key component.

Unified HKUST 

To preserve and further develop a diverse and encouraging atmosphere to meet the above goals, new resources, organizational structures, and physical settings are required. The development of our new campus HKUST (Guangzhou) creates an exceptional opportunity for the systematic development of cross-disciplinary programs in concert with the disciplinary-oriented efforts on our Clear Water Bay campus. 

Under the Unified HKUST-Complementary Campuses umbrella, the current Strategic Plan strengthens our vision and strategic priorities, with an emphasis on our expansion both physically and conceptually. We envision a Unified System that capitalizes on the duality outlined above, promoting complementary University campuses while avoiding duplicating programs. The complementary academic structure allows establishment of new intellectual domains to fit the University’s diverse goals, and promotes collaboration and integration between campuses, including facilities and services, policies and mechanisms, and professional standards. 

The scope and complexity of the problems we face call for new approaches with large-scale change and significant experimentation. Complementary academic structures and non-overlapping degree programs will offer and promote a healthy mix of curiosity-driven and mission-encouraged academic and related activities. Under this framework, members of the HKUST system can observe, learn from, and collaborate with each other. Such opportunities will integrate and enhance activities on both campuses, providing a bridge between disciplinary and cross-disciplinary endeavors. Most importantly, the unique individual campuses will enable faculty and students to find the best atmosphere in which to follow their passions and fully develop their interests.