Professor Peter Hogg, our Research Dean, tells us about his visit to the Hong Kong Polytechnic University (HKPU) in his role as external academic adviser
Why is external academic advice important?
University departments rely on external input to perform a range of tasks and without such input they could not deliver their teaching and research business. Within the UK, universities appoint External Examiners to assess quality and within the Department of Radiography at University of Salford we rely on input from a high number of professionals to perform this task.
We have externals for our BSc and MSc programmes and also for each PhD student. Typically, being External Examiner takes around 3-5 days of effort per annum and in any one year we have 8-12 Externals Examiners working with us in the Department of Radiography. However, this must be reciprocated otherwise the university sector would fail. Consequently staff in the Department of Radiography at Salford give back to other universities by being their External Examiner.
How does Hong King differ from the UK?
Hong Kong (HK) has a different approach to the use of externals and instead of the external being associated with only one award / programme they are more holistic. Consequently they are appointed at Department level. They review everything, including physical / human resource, strategic mission, teaching (BSc and MSc awards), research students (e.g. PhD), grant-funded research, administration, professional service, university and department-level policy, etc.
The external is termed Department Academic Adviser and HKPU allows for free thinking, such that the Adviser can assess whatever they like and to any standard they feel fit. The outcome is the provision of verbal and written advice, to the Department, on any or all aspects of its work with a view to helping the department develop and progress.
When did you start in this role?
I was appointed Department Academic Adviser, for a term of three years commencing January 2018, to the Department of Health Technology and Informatics (DHTI) in HKPU. Radiography sits within this department.
Including transfer time, travel time to HK was 20 hours each way, with each flight (13 hours) spanning over two days!
What did you do in your role as advisor to HKPU when you got there?
I worked for a 7 full days. For 10 hours a day, for 4 days, I had face to face meetings in order to gain insight and information; for slightly over ½ day I gave provisional verbal feedback to the whole department about their work; and for 2 days I constructed a 15 page written report.
For the face to face meetings I met with: 12 BSc, 1 MSc and 3 PhD students; Department staff at all levels (individually), including administrators; other university staff, including Dean; various committees (e.g. ‘teaching and learning’ and ‘research’); and I was also taken on several guided tours of facilities. I was provided with various documents to inspect, for example programme documents and student assignments. The External Department Adviser activity was completed within 7 consecutive days (Saturday through Friday, inclusive) and including travel the total time away from home was 9 days.
What did you think about the differences in this approach?
I am not able to inform you of specific details of my work because the information is confidential to HKPU. Don’t take that as a negative comment, because DHTI at HKPU is excellent across all aspects of its business!
On reflection I did feel the holistic approach used in HK is much better than the programme specific approach used within most UK universities. I have acted as External Examiner for MSc, BSc and PhD awards in UK and foreign universities and the process demands a focus on those awards in an exclusive nature such that they are considered in isolation and without major contextual factors being taken into account (e.g. their combined needs and the impact of delivering them together and with other aspects of business too).
I feel we have something to learn from HK in this regard.
What did you personally gain from the experience?
Personally I gained immensely from being Academic Department Advisor as it gave me new insights on how things can be done. However, I can honestly say this was one of the most physically and intellectually demanding roles I have undertaken in my career.
This relates to the extremely long working days accompanied with high expectations throughout the whole visit and subsequently within my written report. Also the broad range of knowledge, experience and skill that is needed to deliver the role of Academic Department Advisor is evident from the onset and the activity drew on many aspects of my professional experiences to date.
Nevertheless, I can wholeheartedly recommend the role of External Examiner or Department Academic Advisor to anybody, but do be aware that either role comes with high intellectual and time expectations.