For those outside the region, whether a degree-granting institution has to be called a university would seem of little consequence. There are institutions of learning the world over that have high standing and do not feel the need to change their name. The Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Dartmouth College in the United States, Imperial College in London and Australia’s Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology are among them. In the teacher-training sphere, the Hong Kong Institute of Education’s (HKIEd’s) British and Singaporean counterparts, although affiliated to universities, have retained their separate identities.
In East Asia, particularly in countries steeped in the Confucian tradition, however, institutions are well aware of the added cachet that designation as a university brings. If the name of the Institute of Education in Tai Po was firmly entrenched in the minds of Hongkongers, there might have been less of a problem. But its creation in 1994 from the amalgamation of five colleges of education offering subdegree courses post-dated reforms that put in place the present university system. It has offered full degree courses only since 1998. Although about 77 per cent of its students are studying for degrees, HKIEd is perceived as being inferior to those institutions designated as universities. Because it is not called a university, it has also faced difficulties collaborating with universities overseas.
HKIEd’s demand is to be allowed to “rectify” its name as a university. In rejecting its request, the University Grants Committee is not saying that HKIEd has not lived up to the high standards it has set for itself. Rather, the committee has taken the broader view, formed after a review of international trends, that teacher education should take place in a multidisciplinary environment for the benefit of students, staff and the community. The view deserves support; it is intellectually sound and eminently sensible. Single-discipline institutions are the product of a bygone era. All over the world, the trend has been to merge them into bigger entities or allow them to grow by developing new programmes. The aim is to facilitate the cross-fertilisation of ideas and multidisciplinary collaboration.