Newsletter No. 120

2 No. 120 19th January 1998 CUHK Newsletter A Y o u n g D e a n f o r aYoungFaculty Prof. P.C. Ching on Assumption of Duty as Dean of Engineering Almost seven years after its inception, the Faculty of Engineering has a new dean. Prof. Ching Pak-chung, former chair of the Department of Electronic Engineering and a man still very much on the 'right' side of 45, is currently the youngest faculty dean at the University. Aspirations What does Prof. Ching consider to be the reasons for the support he has won in the election? 'Probably because I've always tried to be fair, open, and transparent in handling personnel and resource allocation matters during my term as department chairman. And probably because I'm always ready to communicate with people of all levels,' he said. When asked about his plans for the faculty, Prof. Ching started off by giving credit to his predecessor, as new deans and department heads often do. 'Prof. Omar Wing, who was dean for two terms, spent a lot of time and effort on building up the faculty, which evolved from three to five departments under his leadership. Those were the faculty's growing years. In the years to come, we will not only build on this foundation but also develop in ways synchronous with the advances in science and technology. Engineering is a constantly changing field, and the Chief Executive Mr. Tung Chee Hwa has highlighted in his policy address the importance of information technology and high-tech industry for Hong Kong's future. The Faculty of Engineering will continue to do its best in making Hong Kong a technical centre,' said Prof. Ching. Budget Cuts Yet Prof. Ching's assumption of office coincides with the government's infamous budget cuts. Would they affect his work and if so, how? While conceding that the budget cuts affect the entire University to some extent, Prof. Ching pointed out that people, not money, is the faculty's primary concern: 'The faculty is lucky to have over 80 excellent teachers. However we also need high quality students. Even with limited resources, our prospects are good if we have strong students. In a rapidly developing place like Hong Kong, opportunities of financial support are available beyond the campus gates. For example, our knowledge and expertise are useful to the making of "high-value added" products in industry,' explained Prof. Ching. Student Quality But does the stress on the importance of having 'quality' students imply their lack? 'No, on the contrary, we have been doing quite well these few years, but one would always like to do even better,' said Prof. Ching. 'Perhaps we can put it this way: some departments in the faculty have a high and rising quality level of student intake while others may have a slight popularity problem in a society that's highly market-driven.' According to Prof. Ching, the faculty's five departments — Computer Science and Engineering, Electronic Engineering, Information Engineering, Mechanical and Automation Engineering, and Systems Engineering and Engineering Management, correspond to five of the most promising areas of development in Hong Kong's engineering field, ones most closely tied to Hong Kong's geographical advantages and industrial needs. Hence there should be no lack of career opportunities for graduates of those five areas. He will devise plans to enhance the overall reputation of the faculty so that there will be a balanced growth in the quality of student intake in all five departments. Postgraduate Research The faculty's other concern is getting local students to engage in research. Currently the ratio of local to mainland graduate students in the faculty is about 7:3. As engineering is an ever advancing field where competition is getting keener by the day, local students should keep abreast of new developments and gainmore in-depth knowledge. Their interest in research, or lack thereof, has repercussions in the whole industry and even Hong Kong: ' I f there is much expertise in technology and the market in Hong Kong, interest in starting up new industries and companies will naturally be high. But if there isn't, opportunities for innovation will also be low. Industrial development in particular and the entire development of Hong Kong will suffer as a result.' Local engineering students, whom Prof. Ching described as 'bright and resourceful' but 'easily distracted', should listen up. This is no laughing matter indeed. Language Proficiency It is sometimes said that an engineer's first language is numbers and hence can be forgiven for not being able to express himself/herself well in language as we know it. Is this true, or is this simply a conspiracy by jealous non- engineers to create a 'nerdy' image for engineers, or rather, is this a response by defensive engineers to suspicions of that conspiracy? 'In general students specializing in science spend more time on "non-language" subjects. Yet that doesn't necessarily mean they are deficient linguistically,' said Prof. Ching. 'But having said that, I think Hong Kong's education system is to blame if employers find that engineering graduates are better at mathematics than at speaking. There is simply not enough language training in primary and secondary schools. When they get to university and specialize in a science subject, it's exceedingly difficult to teach them language. One can't make science students take a few language courses and expect miracles.' At present all students of the Faculty of Engineering have to take the course 'Technical Communication' run by the English Language Teaching Unit. Space The Faculty of Engineering is currently housed in the Ho Sin Hang Engineering Building, with the Information Networking Laboratories (INL) in a 'borrowed home' at the Hong Kong Institute of Biotechnology. The INL was set up in 1995 as a wholly owned subsidiary of the University to facilitate technology transfer between academia and industry. Its functions include helping projects undertaken by the faculty's departments to realize their commercial potential, and offering consultancy services to the government and commercial bodies, all at a price. Prof. Ching pointed out that although the INL's development has been steady for the past two years, it has more or less been 'stunted' by the lack of space. He therefore hopes that the Engineering Building Phase I I project can be completed within his term of office and the whole faculty plus INL can grow in directions that have otherwise been difficult. 'The University Grants Committee has given us the green light for the building of Phase II. The problems we have to solve now, namely money and choice of location, are University-level,' said Prof. Ching. Science Park Also to be decided at the University level is the faculty's future involvement in Hong Kong's first Science Park, to be built at the Pak Shek Kok reclamation site north of the campus. The value and importance of the Science Park to Hong Kong is similar to those of the INL to the University. Prof. Ching believes that CUHK will definitely benefit from the proximity to the park and will actively support the development of technology- based industries in Hong Kong. But it's still 'too early' to decide on the University's role in the venture. After all, he said, the issue should be looked at in the light of Hong Kong's future development and not solely in the microcosmic context of the University. Ex ternal L i nks Prof. Ching would like to see Hong Kong on the same par as the most technologically advanced countries. To this end the University has recently concluded an undergraduate student exchange agreement with the University of Illinois in the US. Plans for internship programmes with companies in the US and other countries are under way, as are exchange visits for graduate students. On the other hand, research collaboration with mainland institutions is encouraged. Prof. Ching also advises faculty members to take time o ff from research and teaching to serve the community, to 'let society know what roles the CUHK Faculty of Engineering can play and what we can contribute'. He also hopes that the faculty can expand but this entails considerations such as whether expansion should be in a new department area or in the existing five. T i me Management With so much on his plate, will Prof. Ching have time for research and teaching? ' I have no intention of giving up my research and teaching. I 'm teaching a new course this term, working on two research projects, and supervising four graduate students. I f there's anything I can be proud of, it's my ability to keep long working hours. But it's still too early to tell how I'll reallocate my time to cope with new administrative duties.' We have no doubt that Prof. Ching will do very well. As he himself said, albeit modestly, 'I've been a teacher and researcher for over a decade. I wouldn't have lasted that long i f I weren't interested.' Piera Chen