World Trends of Development of Residential College (English Only)

World Trends of the Development of Residential College:

Book learning alone might be got by lectures and reading; but it was only by studying and disputing, eating and drinking, playing and praying as members of the same collegiate community, in close and constant association with each other and with their tutors, that the priceless gift of character could be imparted.

—Samuel Eliot Morison, The Founding of Harvard College

1. A brief history of Residential College

The development of residential colleges is one of emerging trends in higher education in the 20th century. Universities, like Harvard, Yale, National University of Singapore, Australian National University, National Tsing Hua University in Taiwan, Fudan University, Chinese University of Hong Kong and so on, have been developing RC for years. Inspired by the collegiate experiences from Oxbridge, these universities modified and gradually developed specific RC systems for their own education purposes, which are very different from the British model. However, some common places can still be found from these different models as the features of RC in contemporary universities. Dr Donald Markwell, the Warden of Rhodes House, Oxford, acknowledge a few similarities in his speech for the Ashley Lecture at Trent University, Canada. (Markwell 2010) In his conception, RC can give its residents a great sense of belonging to a community, academic advice and pastoral care, a variety of activities, life-long friendships, and encouragement of the values such as integrity and respect for others. Residents can discover and develop their talents through various kinds of activities and networks.

The model of RC was not given attention by other universities over the past 50 years and it was not until some ten years ago that the higher education system was reviewedand reformed in North America with a boom in RCs in some major universities there. What we are witnessing now seems to be a return to the original and genuine nature of higher education.

In recent years, a good number of North American universities have converted part or all of their student dormitories into RCs, including the Universities of Pennsylvania, Princeton, Cornell, Virginia, Rice, Murray State, Middlebury College, Claremont McKenna College in the US, and University of Toronto in Canada.

In Asia, several universities have also introduced RC for the first time, such as Yonsei University in Korea, Tunghai University, National Chengchi University and National Tsing Hua University in Taiwan, Fudan University in Mainland China and the UM where the author works. Besides, other universities such as Peking University and National University of Singapore have established non-major-based liberal arts colleges as a first step towards RC. This shows that the RC system can be implemented not only in resourceful and top private universities but also in general public universities, and that this system does not require either additional funding and neither will it affect existing academic disciplines.

2. Concept and Functions of RC

RC is a small on-campus staff-student learning community that integrates students' learning and life and that aims to promote their whole-person development. Each student not only belongs to his/her major but is also assigned to one of a number of RCs. In a university, faculties and RCs are supplementary to each other, or mutually complementary to the other.

Normally students will not change their RCs during their four years of undergraduate study. Each RC consists of between 200 to 500 members, two thirds of whom are undergraduate students (including international exchange students), and the rest are staff members and postgraduate students (staff members are usually resident tutors). Student members are from different years of study, majors, nationalities, family backgrounds and social classes. In the event of insufficient accommodation, some students will become non-resident members and form their own associations.

Various learning and recreational facilities, as well as accommodation, are comfortably distributed in the semi-enclosed space of a RC. These facilities include student dormitories, quarters for college directors, student advisors and some professors, dining halls, classrooms, study rooms, consultation rooms, small libraries, computer rooms, recreational amenities, music rooms, performance rehearsal areas, gathering areas, offices for RC students' associations and green spaces like courtyards. Students and staff are expected to create a learning and life environment like a small liberal arts college, an intimate and supportive academic community within the bigger campus, and thus broadening both their vision and imagination.

A RC is an independent and cross-disciplinary community where students and staff will dine together and interact on a regular basis. The college affairs office and students' associations will regularly organize various kinds of academic, social and recreational activities and provide students with part-time job opportunities in the RC. Therefore, a RC is also an ideal venue to develop mutual consideration, to deliver non-formal education and to stimulate students' moral standards and academic performance. As to the support for learning, the RC can invite its professors to provide the students with tutoring, such as campus life orientation and reading and writing training programmes for new students, which are supplementary to the students' credit-bearing courses.

Students and staff will have a strong sense of belonging to their respective college. Each RC is distinguished by its own culture, personality and character, offering plenty of room for students and staff to bring their imaginative talent into play and each RC may have its own colours, insignia and other identifying features. Communication and interaction will constantly take place between members of this community and in the process of learning self-management, students will also refine their character and inter-personal skills and enhance their team spirit and leadership capacity.

In the RC, staff and students are respectively senior and young members of a family, where both groups enjoy similar status. RC is the best way to realize the ideal of a "learning community". Through activities in this community, students will form life-long friendships and closer personal networks.

This system is substantially different from the student dormitory, which is embedded in a structure where teaching and student life are segregated. It offers very few functions apart from accommodation and has little bearing on education. On the contrary, RC is based on the concept of a highly integrated learning community, incorporating classroom learning, residence, extracurricular activities and non-formal education for students.

Useful links:

The Collegiate Way: Residential Colleges and the Renewal of University Life
UM Residential College System