Liberal Arts Learning and Soft Skills

Haydn CHEN
University of Macau, Macau


Higher education of the 21st century began to show a renewed interest in "holistic education" or the "whole-person education". Irrespective of the terminology, University of Macau believes that a higher education should cover two aspects-disciplinary learning (for hard skills) and liberal arts learning (for soft skills). The term "liberal arts" was coined to encompass the foundation of learning of soft/smart power which embodies the qualities of the well-rounded education of students and their contributions to society.

According to various highly regarded surveys 70 per cent of employers feel that soft skills are more important than having professional knowledge alone. Soft skills include elements such as character, passion, communication, caring, team spirit, positive attitude, forward looking, global perspectives, career awareness, mental and physical strength, lifelong learning capabilities, etc. to name a few. Therefore, higher education should be much broader than simply acquiring professional expertise or dwelling on knowledge alone without actions.

At the University of Macau, the 4-in-1 education model is adopted that includes 1) Disciplinary Education, 2) General Education, 3) Research and Internship Education, and 4) Community and Peer Education. To realize the above the University of Macau provides Experiential Residence Learning in the Residential Colleges (RC) in addition to the Disciplinary Learning attained in the academic Faculty. All students are members of RCs in which various programs and activities are designed and carried out to enable students to achieve the following five competencies: 1) Interpersonal Relation and Teamwork, 2) Global Citizenship, 3) Leadership and Service, 4) Cultural Engagement, and 5) Healthy Living. Moreover, evaluation and assessment of student development are carried out via three tier process including self-, peer- and teacher-assessment.

Residential College is a form of education that provides the opportunities for students to learn while living together and participating in various meaningful programs that are specially designed and purpose-driven purposes; those programs included courses, lectures, workshops, plays, tours and other activities. Communal dining is also a part of the RC program and there are plenty of opportunities for intimate contact and interactions amongst faculty members and students. In such an environment, peer and community learning can effectively taking place.

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