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The process of discovery

Article - September 14, 2012
Macau is a global city and its top private university, University of St. Joseph (USJ), is a truly international school that emphasises the learning process and self-discovery

With origins dating back to 1594 when Macau was a Portuguese settlement, USJ students hail from 65 different countries and the faculty, as well, represent myriad nations and ethnic groups.

Although classes are taught in English, students also take courses Putonghua (standard Chinese) and Portuguese, thus fully rounding out their linguistic curriculum. This approach to language is representative of the university and its rector’s idea of holistic learning. USJ Rector Professor Ruben de Freitas Cabral explains: “We go back to the Catholic tradition where all our students have areas of concentration and specialization in the traditional sense. If you want to study psychology, you have first of all compulsory languages and then you have to take courses that may come from business, etc. How can you understand one thing if you do not understand the context? It is like medicine, where people studied the nose from beginning to end, but they didn’t know the relationship between the nose and the toes.”

USJ has six major schools: the School of Arts, Letters & Sciences; the School of Management, Leadership & Government; the School of Intelligent Systems & Technology; the School of Lifelong Learning; the Institute of Advanced Studies; and the School of Christian Studies. In addition, there are plans to add courses in Islam and other religious faiths.

Professor de Freitas says the university places great emphasis on humanities and social sciences. “IT comes from the way we interpret the world. We are not a technical university,” he explains.

His philosophy is that true teaching is providing students with the opportunity to learn. “It is not about how I can help, but rather how I can create a system whereby the can find themselves and look at this wonderful world in a very credible, scientific and hopeful way,” he says, adding that “We are driven by the future, not by the past or present. It is a process of people discovering, building and also transmitting the basic Catholic principles. This is not something that can be taught; it can only be learnt.”

USJ is currently building a new campus, which should be ready in the spring of 2013. Located in a 1.5 hectare site in northern Macau, this campus – dubbed Ilha Verde Campus, or Green Island Campus – will be able to accommodate 2,400 students as well as 800 students from the senior secondary school of Colegio Diocesano de Sao Jose. What makes the campus “green” is its design to be energy-efficient, minimizing waste and making use of roof gardens. State-of-the-art classrooms with the latest multi-media capabilities, a digital library, a food court, specialized rooms for music and the fine arts, and top-notch sports facilities, among others, will make Ilha Verde an enviable 21st century campus.

Two Fulbright Scholarships have recently been made available for U.S. students to study at USJ, and all USJ degrees are jointly awarded by the Catholic University of Portugal, where Professor de Freitas is professor and coordinator of MEd in Educational Administration.