The Tangible Rewards and Social Responsibilities of a Liberal Arts Education

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In Asia, in particular, students have frequently put the study of STEM subjects ahead of the pursuit of a liberal arts education. However, in today’s dynamic economy, and in a world prone to disruptive shocks such as the COVID-19 pandemic, flexibility, enthusiasm for life-long learning, a willingness to take risks, and a spirit of leadership and entrepreneurship, are increasingly important. These qualities are also key attributes of graduates of a high-quality liberal arts program.

As part of its EdTalk series of discussions with leading figures from Hong Kong’s education sector, the SAR’s leading English language newspaper, the South China Morning Post, recently spoke with Prof Leonard K Cheng and Prof Joshua Mok, President and Vice President respectively of Lingnan University. Lingnan, Hong Kong’s leading public liberal arts university, was ranked second in the world for “quality education” in the Times Higher Education magazine’s World University Impact Rankings 2020. Quality education is one of the 17 United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.

“The advantage of liberal arts education is that it provides skills that are needed for the 21st century,” Prof Cheng explained. “Liberal arts graduates are more capable of handling modern problems. Critical and creative thinking together with other skills allows them to be more adaptable and better in dealing with unforeseen situations.”

These soft skills, along with the broader scope of knowledge the graduates tend to possess, are also well suited to the later stages of their careers. Prof Cheng pointed to a study of US graduates showing that those with a liberal arts education had an average net present value (NPV) 40 years after graduation of US$918,000, 27 percent more than the graduates of all other universities.

But through its Service-Learning program, Lingnan is also keen for students to help fulfill needs or solve problems in the wider community. “Our motto is ‘Education for service’, Prof Mok noted. “We care for society, so we do research. It’s not only for international academic publications.”

By 2039, an estimated 2.52 million of Hong Kong’s population will be aged over 65, a report from the government’s Census and Statistics Department shows. That could increase to 2.58 million or 38.4 percent of the population by 2069.

One initiative exploring ways to support the city’s aging population is the LU Jockey Club Gerontechnology and Smart Ageing Project, led by the Institute of Policy Studies (IPS) at Lingnan. The three-year research project, which runs until 2022, aims to promote gerontechnology, a multidisciplinary field that combines gerontology and technology, to support the needs of Hong Kong’s elderly, improve their quality of life and give them the tools and ability to care for themselves.

“If we can adopt gerontechnology to help the elderly adapt to new changes in society, they can live comfortably at home, in residential care homes, and enjoy their lives in the community,” said Prof Mok, who is also Director of the IPS.

To view SCMP EdTalk – Professor Leonard K Cheng, President, Lingnan University

To view SCMP EdTalk – Professor Joshua Ka Ho Mok, Vice President, Lingnan University