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Interview with Dean Miguel Nunes

Last updated :2016-02-02

Source: SYSU News Center
Photo by: School of Information Management
Edited by: Wang Dongmei

Prof. Miguel Nunes officially took office as the Dean of the School of Information Management at Sun Yat-sen University (SYSU) on the morning of January 22, 2016. He delivered the inaugural speech at a meeting attended by university leaders as well as faculty and staff of the School. In the afternoon, Dean Nunes was interviewed by Mr Ian Heuer - International staff member in SYSU’s Office for Overseas Promotion - and Ms Wang Dongmei - the English News Editor of the SYSU Publicity Department for an interview.

Professor Miguel Nunes, Dean of the School of Information Management at Sun Yat-sen University
Interviewer: First of all, congratulations to you on being appointed as Dean of the School of Information Management! Thank you for choosing to join SYSU and contribute to the development of the University! Now, the University is developing into a first-tier nationwide university, and we have incorporated the strategic goal of fostering an academic environment where all disciplines develop distinctively but also systematically, thus allowing the University to blossom into an institution with influence and impact on a global scale. Under your leadership, what development goals would you envision for the School of Information Management?

Dean Nunes: There is real difference between being a professor and being a dean. A Professor specializes, very often in isolation. As dean you need to think holistically about the development of the whole school. I would prefer to develop my career, but if I am to be a dean, I need to have a totally different vision. The vision I have for the School is related with the situation of the discipline in itself. So, the information science discipline is under threat by constant change, by incessant change, by a change that occurs not only in terms of technology, but also in terms of the society around us. Therefore, we require an enormous effort of adaptation, research, evolution in terms of our thinking about what is information science, what are information behaviors, what are information needs. So my vision for the School is a vision of constant evolution, of constant adaptation to the emerging technologies around us and to the emerging social trends around us. It’s a hard field to be in at the moment because it’s a field that is moving ahead of us. So my vision is one of unity in the School, of shaping the identity of the School around information science and being an information scientist, and also to some extent, the need to influence the discipline nationally and internationally. I think we need to be very proactive in terms of trying to influence what the world around us, both in China and internationally, is doing in terms of reconceptualizing our field. This is done very much through a movement that started in America, the iSchool movement, which is a movement of a number of international worldwide iSchools that actually came together to rethink and reconceptualize the field. We are part of that movement, and we want to be active and proactive in actually shaping the discipline there.

Interviewer: Can you talk a little bit about what form does that reconceptualization take?

Dean Nunes: Traditionally this field was solely a librarianship field, but that is a very traditionalistic view and not one that is compatible with what we do, it’s not compatible with what the School is at the moment actually, and it’s not compatible with the vision for iSchools worldwide. In this School in particular, librarianship is a very strong discipline. We are probably one of the best schools in the country in the field of librarianship, but we are not globally because we need to develop other fields. Basically the discipline has three main areas that are represented in the School, librarianship, archives, and information management and information systems. From these three areas, librarianship is evolving as fast as any other, going into concepts such as digital libraries, digital information resources management, etc. So the field of librarianship is by no means a static field, it is growing and will evolve. Archives are under threat by a number of new concepts, namely, for instance, big data, and the capacity of organizations to deal and capture data, and then maintain it and use it for their own needs. And then the entire world of information management and information systems, it has to do with the understanding information behaviors and information needs, and to support those information behaviors and information needs through information systems. So if you think that an iSchool is much more than just librarianship. For instance I am not a librarian, I am an information systems researcher.

Interviewer: The recent adjustment of schools and departments at SYSU is aimed at optimizing the University’s disciplinary structure. Against the backdrop of this reorganization, when you assume the position as Dean, what are your thoughts and plans for disciplinary development in the School?

Dean Nunes: Well, we are in a multidisciplinary field by nature, and because of our contacts with the fields around us, such as computer science, management, social sciences, and even specific fields like public administration, we have contacts with all those fields, so we want to be part of the University and maintain and enrich contacts with all these other departments. I don’t see the development of information systems and information management, information science as a development in isolation, but a development in cooperation with many other schools in the University, and receiving influences from all those schools. Individually we will have to develop, we are preparing a plan for the development, construction and cultivation of the discipline, but I would not like to envisage it done in isolation, rather than in cooperation with other schools.

Interviewer: Have you heard of the “three big constructions” initiative put forward by the University, consisting of “big platforms, big research teams and big projects”? I want to know maybe briefly if you have any thoughts about this initiative or how it relates to your work.

Dean Nunes: Yes, I have. I have a general vision, but I don’t have a clear idea before I actually understand some of these basic principles. I need to think how these basic principles can be translated into practice. Many of these principles are aspirational. As a dean, I need to think how I’m going to put this into practice. But in line with what I said to you before, I see big research being done in cooperation with other schools, I see big platforms being created in cooperation with other schools, and I see that our natural neighbors computer science, software development, management schools, public administration schools, I see the possibility of creation of big teams, maybe such teams in big projects in cooperation with these schools. But again to be honest, I’m talking about aspiration rather than practice. I can only gauge the real possibilities when I discuss these concepts inside my School.

Interviewer: As evidenced by your background, you are dedicated to research in information management and information systems. Do you have any thoughts about how you could integrate your own research into the development of the School? What new research directions or paths do you envision for the School? Have you thought about changing the present research structure of the School?

Dean Nunes: The School has very strong established nationally recognized areas in terms of library and archives. The School has under the previous dean started to develop the area of information management and information systems. My priorities in the next couple of years are to strengthen, to definitely strengthen our library and archives groups so that we remain solid and strong, and to put efforts in developing the area of information management and information systems. That is my intention, and I intend to bring as many people as I can to fill the needs in these three groups, and I intend to bring some foreigners as well if I can.

Interviewer: What are your suggestions for the relevant policies on talent introduction at the School of Information Management or the University at large? In other words, what measures should the University or the School take to attract and retain talents?

Dean Nunes: I think it is in the interest of both the University and Chinese academia in general that we have more foreign intake in Chinese universities. I was this morning talking to my staff and I was saying that when I was in England, I was also a foreigner, so being a foreigner for me is a natural state of things. The big difference between my experience here and my experience in England is that here I am the only foreigner, whereas in England about 50% of the staff is foreign. I think what the Americans, the English and the Europeans have been doing is to recruit the best people for the place when they can, and therefore attracting brains and talents into their own universities. I think Chinese universities would benefit from doing the same if they want to compete with the top of the world. So I would like this School to compete at the top of the world, I would like to bring if I can, to attract if I can, good people from abroad. There are several possibilities, there are many extraordinary good Chinese people working in foreign universities, maybe we can attract them. There are foreigners that maybe also want to come.

But I think something else that is important for this conversation. There is a lack of understanding abroad of the opportunities that can be given in Chinese universities. That is where the area that I would like to work because people don’t even know they can come with very good conditions. They don’t know how good the possibilities and the opportunities are that are given here. To give you a basic example, money for research is easier to get in China than in America. There is more money at national level for grants, there is more money at local level for grants, there is more money in the University itself for grants than there is in the environment where I came, where it’s extremely difficult, or even in American environments. I think that people outside of China don’t have this understanding. I really think that coming to China can be quite competitive, can be quite interesting. Universities are offering a number of plans to attract foreigners, except that nobody knows about these plans abroad. So I would like very much to try and attract as many as I can by also disseminating knowledge about these plans, disseminating knowledge about these opportunities.

Interviewer: You’ve just talked about faculty recruitment, so what about attracting international students?

Dean Nunes: We have discussed that quite at length in the School. The problem with attracting foreign students to Chinese universities is that most of the teaching is done in Chinese. And in order to resolve that we need to change at least some pathways within the programs to provide an English teaching provision so that then we can attract international students. At the moment, how are we going to attract Europeans or Americans if everything is taught in Chinese? So I think we have a difficulty in that aspect, on the other hand, we have possibilities in other areas like for instance in postgraduate students, master’s and PhDs.

We want to create a new summer school, and the new summer school can be taught in English, we can attract students that way. So I think there are two different poles of this problem. One is the traditional undergraduate teaching that is very Chinese, very Chinese oriented and therefore very difficult to actually attract students in there. But then there is the master’s and the PhD level of provision and that is where we as a school want to try to internationalize. My plan is to teach only in English. I already started negotiations with two colleagues from Sheffield and they will teach in English. So, slowly my intention is to create a master’s that will be solely taught in English, that we can then attract international students both to take it full time or as exchange students.

We also aim to attract PhD students. It is my interest to get as many international PhD students in the School as possible. We still need to localize the program, and again we need to disseminate the possibility of doing PhDs abroad. I think that at least in Europe, there is very little knowledge about the possibility to do a PhD in China. Again I think the conditions that are offered here are very good because the fees in England, or in the States, or in Canada are extremely high. And I think again the support that is given to students here, the scholarships and etc, can be very competitive. And I think again it’s a question of dissemination. We intend to disseminate that in the next iSchool conference, we want to take some leaflets and try to start there.

Interviewer: You’ve mentioned both for recruiting students and faculty that one of the promises is dissemination and letting people know. How would you think that could be achieved?

Dean Nunes: I think it will depend very much on the field. I think dissemination at conferences, dissemination through the Confucius Institute. There is a Confucius Institute in most European universities. Dissemination through them probably could be quite interesting. So maybe through the Confucius Institute because it’s such a rich network and is so spread through all of Europe now. Maybe we could enter in discussion with that network and disseminate our university and our possibilities through that network. Confucius Institutes are pathways both for connecting with potential students and also potential faculty members. The Confucius Institutes, although aimed mostly at students, also have a strong connection with staff. I tried to learn Chinese in the Confucius Institute in Sheffield for instance. The Confucius Institute is quite an interesting organization, but at the moment it is very much geared towards language teaching and the dissemination of Chinese culture. Maybe if we can enter that door, then we can have a very good possibility.

Interviewer: The University’s goal of talent cultivation is to nurture talents who have both ability and moral integrity and are both able to cultivate charisma and eager serve their country. What are your suggestions and opinions on talent cultivation at the University? What are your considerations for the training objectives, programs, and teaching plans at the School of Information Management, and what are your expectations for the students in the School?

Dean Nunes: Well, one thing is attracting international students, the other one is cultivating national students that are useful to Chinese society and Chinese economy. And I think that is a different issue altogether. I think that to a certain extent Chinese curriculae are richer than American and English curriculae, and already include a number of moral strengths that wouldn’t exist in an American curriculum. I do think that the curriculae in China are much more varied than the ones we have in the UK, in America and in Europe that they include courses that would not even be considered in the UK, in America and in Europe. And that actually help providing at least guidance into this moral integrity and capacity to or willingness to be productive in society and be productive for the country.

Interviewer: Now that you’ve joined SYSU as the Dean of the School of Information Management, what do you anticipate might be the biggest challenge and difficulty you will face? What is the biggest opportunity for development?

Dean Nunes: We have several challenges. The School of Information Management is a small school. We want to compete nationally with schools that are actually much larger than we are. The staff here is incredibly productive actually, and has done it with half of the staff of some other schools in the country, managed to compete and to place themselves in a very good ranking place. I think in terms of the development of my discipline in particular, I see it in three different ways. One, growth of the School, growth of the School in terms of staff, in terms of the capacity to recruit PhDs, and the capacity to recruit postgraduate students. Two, the development of an internalization component that will allow us to publish more in International journals, to be more active in international conferences, and to be more active in influencing the field outside China and in China. And finally I see then the other component that I mentioned to you which consists in developing areas of the School that I see at the moment as underdeveloped, I want to put a lot of effort in trying to develop those areas.

So actually it is a compound problem here since the environment in which we need to develop is changing around us. So the general challenge is that we need to do all these three things while everything is changing around us, and that is a very difficult thing to do. But nevertheless, everyone is doing it, so we are not unique, so we are not complaining, everybody now in our field is doing this, everybody in fields like software development are having the same problem, so we are not unique in this case, but we need to be aware that this is a problem, this is a challenge and that we want to do it. So in these three avenues the challenges are complicated.

Interviewer: So facing these challenges, what ways do you expect the University can support you as the School undertakes these development or goals?

Dean Nunes: The University can support us in a number of ways, and I had very productive, interesting and challenging conversation with President Luo Jun, in which he set very high targets for us, but he also promised very high levels of support. Very high levels of support in enabling us to recruit more staff, very high levels of support in helping us in terms of resources, and also very high levels of support in terms of helping us with national bodies that we need to apply for instance to have more PhDs. And not everything in this challenge is local, many of these things come from the Ministry of Education, from National Bodies, and here the University can help us. President said to me personally that he would be willing to help us. Conversation with him was challenging, but very, very, very positive. So I’m quite happy with that.

Interviewer: Well, I think that wraps up the questions. That’s very enlightening conversation, and I think the University is quite lucky to have you and you are a fantastic asset for our development.

Dean Nunes: Thank you!