|Hong Kong’s thirst for academic talent is stirring global interest.
The city’s universities need 1,000 more professors to cope with the launch of a new four-year degree system, and the intense competition is pushing up academic salaries, university administrators say.
Extensive recruitment drives have been launched by local universities over the past few years and most have yet to meet all their needs. But with two years to go before the launch of the new four-year system, the pressure is mounting to fill positions.
A three-year senior secondary system was launched last year and the first batch of graduates from this system will enter university for four-year degrees in 2012 – the same year as the last graduates under the old four-year senior secondary system arrive for their three-year degrees.
Professor Tony Chan Fan-cheong, president of the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology and convenor of the Heads of Universities Committee, says the institution is short of 100 professors, and the sector needs up to 1,000 academics. “We need to get the extra faculty so that we can maintain the current student-professor ratio [at 12 to one],” he said.
“The demand for such a large pool of academic talent in such a small place as Hong Kong has stirred up quite a lot of attention in the academic world. As every university is fighting for talent now, some overseas professors are getting several offers. They have more bargaining power to demand better salary packages.”
Chan said the recruitment of top overseas talent was a big challenge for the university. “We plan to raise HK$1 billion for the establishment of 10 endowed chairs. Half [of the funding] at renowned North American private universities like Harvard and Stanford relies on such endowment funds. The recurrent interest generated from the funds can pay for the professors’ salaries.
“As we are a young institution that doesn’t have the long history enjoyed by Harvard, it’s challenging for us to raise money to set up the funds. Currently, we have only a few endowed chairs and we plan to increase the number to 10. They will be involved in both teaching and research.”
A Chinese University spokeswoman said it was still short of about 200 teaching staff for the launch of the four-year system.
“We need around 400 extra people for 2012. Over the past three years, we have recruited around 200 academics from Hong Kong and around the world to join our faculty. Over 90 per cent of them have overseas qualifications. We will continue our recruitment drive to get quality teaching staff in the next two years.”
A University of Hong Kong spokeswoman said it needed 200 more professors by 2012. “We will try our best to offer the best employment terms and work environment to get talent,” she said.
In Hong Kong, average monthly salaries for professors top HK$100,000 while associate professors can make at least HK$70,000 and assistant professors can expect about HK$40,000 or more.
In the United States, based on 2007 figures, the average monthly salary for a professor was HK$64,000. Associate professors got about HK$45,200 and assistant professors just under HK$38,000. But it depends on the university. An assistant professor might have got between HK$40,100 and HK$48,500 at the University of Utah but HK$47,600 to HK$68,700 at Cornell University.
Chan said preparing new courses was another key part of the preparation for the new four-year structure.
“Our 400-strong faculty has come up with more than 200 new courses spanning various fields of general knowledge like humanities, language, history and artistic education. All four-year students will be required to take 34 credits for general education.”
Professor Lee Chi-kin, vice president (academic) of the Hong Kong Institute of Education, said teaching degrees would be extended from four to five years from 2012. “We plan to offer new programmes on psychology and special education,” he said.
“We will also roll out a new programme incorporating primary and secondary education. Students will be required to do placement at both primary and secondary schools. Graduates can opt for either secondary or primary work.”