What’s in a name? Well, in the case of Hong Kong’s Open University, it’s outdated associations with adult distance learning, the school’s leaders say.
In a rare move for institutions of higher learning, the 31-year-old school is now asking the public for suggestions for a new name that can update its image and reflect its position as a full-service university offering bachelor’s degrees and postgraduate courses.
The university said on Monday that it hoped “a more appropriate title” could “better reflect its current status as a full-fledged university as well as its focuses and strengths”.
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A “Selection Committee on University Title” has been formed and is inviting the public to submit their suggestions online by September 30.
Dr Cheung Kwok-wah, dean of the university’s school of education and languages, said: “Some people still have the misunderstanding that we are a distance education institution, partly because of the title of Open University, by which some would link it to those offering open access education through distance delivery mode.”
“Some people even thought the quality of our graduates was lower than those of the so-called UGC-funded institutions,” Cheung added, referring to institutions publicly funded by the University Grants Committee.
A university spokesman estimated it could take a year or two for the university to formally change its name, given the need for the Legislative Council to amend the Open University of Hong Kong Ordinance.
But some alumni called on university management to focus more on upgrading the school’s academic standards, rather than its branding.
One was Sha Tin district councillor Michael Yung Ming-chau, of the Civic Party, who obtained a degree in computing from the university in 2004.
“I don’t see what is wrong with the name Open University. A university should focus on striving for academic excellence. It is sad that ours is focusing on such a gimmick of conducting public consultation for a new name,” Yung said.
“If they think there are many misunderstandings about the university, it means they have not done enough to promote the university.”
Another graduate, Scott Leung Man-kwong, a former Sham Shui Po district councillor who graduated from the university’s school of business and administration in 2007, also said he saw no need for a new name.
“The quality of graduates is more important than the name of the university. I did not experience any discrimination because people knew I graduated from Open University,” Leung said.
Joe Chau Kwok-ming, president of the Hong Kong General Chamber of Small and Medium Business, added that employers cared more about job candidates’ abilities and whether they suited a given role than they did about the name of the institutions they attended.
Posts on the Facebook page of the university’s student union also seemed to suggest that many students disagreed with the idea of a new name for their university. One post, by a user called Louis Cheung, suggested calling it “The Communist University”, while another user, a Leroy Tong, suggested “Hong Kong Liberation University” – apparent jabs at university president Professor Wong Yuk-shan, a pro-Beijing figure who is a Hong Kong delegate to the National People’s Congress, and who also sits on the Basic Law Committee.
Established in 1989 as The Open Learning Institute of Hong Kong, Open University primarily served as a provider of adult education. It gained university status in 1997, launching its full-time, face-to-face associate degree programmes in 2001, and a bachelor’s degree programme in 2003. It joined the government’s Joint University Programme Admissions System in 2007, putting it on par with other government-funded institutions.
The university now has about 10,500 full-time students, and 9,000 part-time ones, and offers a total of 89 full-time and part-time bachelor’s degree courses, as well as 40 master’s degree programmes across five schools. It is now the biggest self-financing university in Hong Kong.
Hong Kong has 22 degree-awarding postsecondary institutions, eight of which are funded by the government through the UGC.
A bachelor’s degree course at a publicly funded university runs about HK$42,100 (US$5,430) for the 2020-21 school year. Open University tuitions, meanwhile, range from HK$75,920 to HK$160,000 for local students, though some are eligible for subsidies from the government.