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The Times Higher Education Supplement (THES) recently published one of its most bite sized bits of propaganda for those who wish to organize their forays into the ivory towers of academia. The annual ranking of universities proposes to authoritatively distinguish between the competing thrusts of universities to be the premier academic institution in the world.

Now my interest is not with the top of the table, for its not likely that I’m to ever wonder down such prestigious hallways, but I have the almost mocking joy of sitting in the lecture theaters of the 33rd best university in the world, the University of Hong Kong and scrolling down to see my undergraduate experience at Kings College London assessed as being of lesser worth then the paper conferred by the Post-Colonial brick and mortar of HKU.

The incredibility knows no bounds.

To assert that HKU is better then KCL, you have to either be deluded to the highest degree or have no experience of those institutions. Certainly in the context of the respective Faculties of Law the battle is so lopsidedly in favour of The Strand that Bonham Road doesn’t stand a chance.

Teachers
An institution is defined by people, and the most important people in any educational institution are the teachers. The craftsman is always more important then the material, and the same is true when you are molding people as when the material is gold and gems. KCL had some duds and deadweights, Emma Ford was prominently noted as one, but on the whole there were few teachers who were less informed, able and better prepared then their students.

The teachers in HKU, as controversial as the position may sound, are divided by ethnicity. The teachers of Caucasian origin are substantially more lucid, organized, determined, informed and responsive then their native counterparts. Imagine my horror that having realized this fact, to then learn that HKU is determined to pursue a course of nativisation, to promote as far as it finds it tenable to promote those of yellower skin faster and higher then perhaps they can merit, to cultivate and develop committed domestic talent. Unfortunately it means you have substandard teachers in the meantime that does not suggest any true possibility of training a coming generation that will be any more then they are.

Organisation
Teachers need support, and this is one area where the results are mixed. At KCL the staff in the office could be frustrating beyond belief when you had to deal with them on any issue but generally the teachers themselves were supremely organized. Material was planned months in advance and you would know the precise amount of work that you would need to do for every week of the year usually by the close of the first week of term if you were so inclined to work it out. At HKU on the other hand information is dripped out on a week by week basis. Lecture handouts appear slowly, tutorial handouts appear on a random basis and the reading lists when they are distributed seem to bare faint resemblance to what is actually covered in the lecture. When the reading and the lecture do align, it is usually to confirm how futile actually doing the reading is. The teacher fully plans to repeat every word in the reading in the lecture, usually because they are right to estimate that none or very few of the students have done their homework.

Their Students
The students at HKU are also of a weird type. There is an impressive mix of international students on exchange programs who are usually very well developed and rounded individuals who are knowledgeable and practical as well as involved in class. There are also a high amount of local professionals who could contribute but there key limitation seems to be time with their work commitments taking the most out of them.

The proper full time local students are utterly disappointing. Their greatest flaw to my eyes is their insular attitude towards knowledge and a shocking timidity towards venturing information. They do not share any of the knowledge that they have and this makes it strikingly unprofitable for the rest of us who do feel inclined to contribute. It’s a mentality that I don’t think can be changed, being root and branch integrated into the Hong Kong educational mentality but teachers also fail to break their students out of this mentality, which I feel that Kings teachers were exceptionally aware of and the good ones strove consciously to create class participation and were willing to pick on people to force involvement in the class. HKU teachers seem to be scared of class participation. And sometimes they should be, cause their students can expose their lack of knowledge. I know for a fact that one of my teachers has been wrong on multiple occassions.o:p>

Conclusion
The numbers given to the THES are lying and I think anyone who has ever experienced the difference between HKU and a proper high quality educational institution will be well aware of this inferiority in their educational ability. The suggestion that they can actually compete at the world class level is sadly mistaken, and it will take a solid root and branch reform of mentality, both of their students and their staff to actually create a teaching environment capable of producing strong productive members of society that will have the depth that is needed,

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2 Comments

    • md
    • Posted November 6, 2006 at 9:32 pm
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    i disagree. not with the ranking itself- i know nothing about the other institutions ranked to make comments on that. the majority of students in my class are locals. and most of them have lots to say in class. i also know of caucasian professors who are misinformed and ignorant. you are basing your observations on your two month experience of three classes in one program; surely you cannot use that to generalize to the rest of the university.

    • Domhttp://www.xanga.com/behappy168
    • Posted November 8, 2006 at 10:54 pm
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    I have no experience at a Hong Kong uni so I hesitate to take sides. However, I do believe that Hong Kong people are very “uncertainty avoidant”, meaning they are uncomfortable dealing with things they are not sure of. Even I, being aware of this fact, have a tendency towards not taking risks even for trivial things. So it is not surprising for local students to not ask questions or share their knowledge. Even in here, when we have a 300-student lecture and 90% of them are Asian, it was hard to get someone to speak up.


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