Same reform, different universities : insights into interdisciplinary curriculum development in Hong Kong through paradigms of organizational change

Florian Verbeek

Supervised by Susan Bridges and Gray Kochhar-Lindgren

Public universities in the Hong Kong SAR implemented the ‘3+3+4’ government-mandated curriculum reform in 2012. It subtracted one year from senior secondary education and added a 4th year to all public university undergraduate degrees. Reform planning began in 2004 and included a clear mandate and agenda for broad and interdisciplinary education. Universities were free to respond to this curriculum mandate as they saw fit, including its conceptualization and design. A major new curriculum component for undergraduate programs was added, variably referred to as the Common Core Curriculum or General Education. The focus of this PhD study is this broadening and 21st century liberal arts type of educational experience that these new program designs were seeking to deliver. Specifically, how it was conceptualized, organized, and implemented. Developing a comprehensive curriculum reform promoting interdisciplinary education is a complex organizational process, and while the wider reform context is largely uniform, the differences in curricular solutions and the nature of reform processes merits interest. In deciding on a research approach, it is argued in the study that higher education literature in the field of organizational studies mostly chooses to target a specific aspect such as culture, critical studies, or leadership. This may inhibit the emergence of processes, nuance, and local priorities from the cases themselves, as literature imposes expectations on the study. To avoid this the study adopts an interdisciplinary research approach (Repko & Szostak, 2017), and develops a multiple case organizational study primarily using expert interviews (Bogner, Littig, & Menz, 2009; Stake, 2006). Five individuals from three universities each are recruited ranging from senior lecturers, reform leaders, to presidents. Reform and university policy documents provide supporting sources of information and context (Bowen, 2009). The interview approach and heuristic interpretive framework is supported with six theoretical paradigms on organizational change, which are appropriated to fit with the research interest (Kezar, 2013). These six paradigms are: Institutional, Evolutionary, Cultural, Socio-Cognitive, Political, and Scientific Management. The multiple case report presents 18 emergent themes, framed within the six paradigms. It includes topics such as how leadership, foundational culture, curriculum integrity and conceptualization, and financial incentives were important influences in understanding the organizational process of interdisciplinary curriculum reform, and the resulting variation in Common Core and General Educational curricula. The themes also indicate obstacles and opportunities in organizing interdisciplinary education such as organizational infrastructure, bottom-up and pro-active networking, managing diverse interest groups, and developing for curricular sustainability. The study provides insights into interdisciplinary educational reform in research universities, the development and application of qualitative interdisciplinary research, and organizational studies in higher education and beyond.

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