The genesis of the University of Macau (UM) dates back to March 1981 when its predecessor, the private University of East Asia (UEA), was co-founded by Mr Wong King Keung, Mr Edward Woo Pak Hay, and Mr Peter Eng Yuk Lun, on a plot of land leased by the local government to Ricci Island West. The founding of UEA signified the beginning of modern higher education in Macao.

Prof Hsueh Shou Sheng was appointed the founding rector of UEA. The university motto was ‘Humanity, Integrity, Propriety, Wisdom, and Sincerity’. UEA followed the British system and comprised a College of Foundation Studies and a University College. In the beginning, the majority of the students came from Hong Kong. With the signing of the Sino-Portuguese Joint Declaration in 1987, the Portuguese Macao government began to make preparations for UEA’s transformation into a public university, to meet society’s demand for human resources during the transitional period leading up to the handover of the sovereignty over Macao. At the time, UEA consisted of five colleges, namely University College, Polytechnic College, College of Foundation Studies, Open College, and Graduate College.

In 1988, the Portuguese Macao government acquired UEA through the Macao Foundation and restructured the university. The revised Charter set out a structure consisting of a Council, a Board of Advisers, and a Senate. The School of Arts, School of Business Administration, School of Social Sciences, and Faculty of Science and Technology were established. English remained the main medium of instruction. In 1989, programmes in science and technology and education were launched, the former to train science and technology professionals, and the latter to further strengthen the training of local teachers of secondary schools, primary schools, and kindergartens. Programmes in law and public administration were also provided. In 1990, undergraduate programmes changed from a three-year system to a four-year system, and the University College was restructured into the Faculty of Arts, Faculty of Social Sciences, and Faculty of Business Administration. In 1991, the Faculty of Law and the Faculty of Education were established.

Following Decree-Law No 50/91/M, UEA became a public university and was renamed University of Macau in 1991. UM’s primary goal at the time was to nurture outstanding graduates for the local community. After the restructuring, the number of students experienced a steady increase, and rapid progress was also made on the academic front. Numerous master’s degree programmes were launched. PhD students were recruited for the first time. The Faculty of Arts and the Faculty of Social Sciences merged to become the Faculty of Social Sciences and Humanities. By 1994, UM had already developed into a comprehensive university with five faculties.

The mid-1990s was a time when UM developed rapidly. In 1997, undergraduate and master’s programmes gained recognition from the Ministry of Education of Portugal. New scholarships were introduced to attract more outstanding students. Ties with the local community were strengthened through collaboration agreements with local educational institutions as well as other public and private organisations on academic and research programmes. In 1999, before the handover of the sovereignty over Macao, UM already had 2,865 full-time students, among whom 539 were master’s and PhD students.

In 1999, Macao returned to the motherland, marking a new era, not just for the city, but for UM as well. With the mission of nurturing professionals much needed by the transitional period accomplished, UM entered a new stage, which called for a change in development strategies. In response, UM increased the number of academic disciplines, improved campus infrastructure, enhanced the quality of the faculty team, and strengthened research capacity. It also launched a series of new bachelor’s and master’s programmes, reduced tuition, and provided scholarships to outstanding students and financial assistance to those in need. With the implementation of these strategies, student quality increased continuously. UM began to implement the Recommended Direct Admission Scheme in 1999, and has since admitted many outstanding local form-6 students through this scheme. All outstanding local form-6 students can apply for UM through this scheme, with a chance to receive scholarships.

Through thirty years of development, the number of enrolled students at UM has increased to over 10,000 from several hundred when the university was first founded. The ratio of local students has increased to 80 percent from 39 percent thirty years ago. UM now has in place a complete set of educational system, and offers a variety of bachelor’s, master’s, PhD, and other programmes, mainly taught in English, with some taught in Chinese, Portuguese, or Japanese, through the Faculty of Arts and Humanities, Faculty of Business Administration, Faculty of Education, Faculty of Health Sciences, Faculty of Law, Faculty of Social Sciences, Faculty of Science and Technology, Institute of Chinese Medical Sciences, and Honours College.

As a leading institution of higher education in Macao, UM takes nurturing outstanding graduates for Macao as one of its primary tasks. In recent years UM has actively improved undergraduate education through the establishment of an Honours College, the introduction of residential colleges, the development of characteristic disciplines, and the implementation of a new ‘4-in-1’ pedagogical model that consists of discipline-specific education, general education, research and internship education, and peer and community education. These reforms have led to a comprehensive improvement in teaching quality.

After Macao’s return to the motherland, the leadership of the Macao SAR government foresaw the unprecedented opportunities awaiting the city. The then-chief executive and secretary for social affairs and culture shared a universal opinion that local universities in which the government played a dominant role had fulfilled their historic missions, and in the future Macao would need a modern university that follows international practices and standards, one that not only meets the needs of local residents, but also stimulates and inspires the local community to seize opportunities and rise up to future challenges. To achieve this vision, not long after Macao’s return to China, they encouraged UM to carry out Charter revision. So in 2001 UM restructured its University Council and appointed a chair. In 2002 the Macao SAR government approved the establishment of a UM Charter Revision Task Force, officially initiating the Charter revision. They also stressed that the purpose of the Charter revision was to make UM into a modern institution in line with international practices and standards, and also to ensure that UM’s development is in alignment with Macao’s future needs.

After several years of discussion, consultation, and studies, the new Judicial Regime of the University of Macau and the new Charter of the University of Macau were officially passed at the Legislative Assembly on 1 September 2006. Under the new governance structure, the University Council serves as the highest governance organ to replace direct supervision from the government, which is in line with the international practice. The greater autonomy, academic freedom, and administrative flexibility as a result of the 2006 Charter revision have combined to accelerate UM’s development in recent years and made it into a modern university.

The year 2009 was an important milestone in UM’s history, because it was in this year that the National People’s Congress Standing Committee officially adopted a bill that proposed authorising the Macao SAR to exercise jurisdiction over the new UM campus located on Hengqin Island, Guangdong, upon the completion of its construction. At the new campus groundbreaking ceremony held on 20 December 2009, leaders from the central government and the Macao SAR government placed a greater historic mission on UM: to become a world-class university. But just as a computer needs good hardware and software to operate well, so does a university. Now with the imminent availability of good ‘hardware’—the new campus, the need for good ‘software’—a suitable and advanced governance model—has never been greater. Therefore, in June 2011 the Macao SAR government announced the appointment of a UM Charter Revision Task Force, hoping that a second Charter revision could better support UM’s development on the new campus, give UM greater adaptability and competitiveness to take advantage of opportunities and meet future challenges, as well as create necessary conditions for UM to realise the goal of becoming a world-class university.