Education in Hong Kong – Part 2

Well, as always, the start to the academic year has been busy. Apologies for the delay, but here I will try and give a bit of an overview of what I have found out about the Hong Kong higher education system. Although I don’t have expertise in all areas I have managed to put together some information that you may find useful.

Until the early 1990’s there were three main “old” Universities in Hong Kong. This year, Hong Kong University is celebrating its centenary. There were also some polytechnic colleges. In the 1990’s the government responded to the need for more University demand. It took up the option of giving the polytechnics a full University status. City University is one of these former polytechnic institutions, formed in 1994. There is still much development and growth occurring in the Hong Kong university system. The University has a links with many different international Universities and the Hong Kong education system still places significant importance on international experience for its students.

At City University of Hong Kong, the academic year starts at the end of August. There are two semesters and then also a summer term. The first semester is a 13 week period followed by a revision week and then two weeks of examinations. After the three week Christmas break, the 15 week second semester starts. This is also followed by a revision week then three weeks of examinations.

After the two semesters there is another three week break (end of May/early June) then there is the summer term which is seven weeks, one revision week and one examinations week. It seems that this term is not compulsory and the courses run in this term are optional and additional course. The University is a lot quieter at this time but there are still undergraduates around, attending classes.

The class schedule at CityU starts at 0830 and finishes at 2230, Monday-Friday. There are also Saturday lectures running from 0930 to 1820. Each lecture slot is the standard 50 minutes but certainly the students I deal with have a lot of double slots of basically a two hour lecture.

The module system here seems very different to the UK. The students are expected to have a certain level of English language before they get to University. As I have mentioned before, the courses are taught and examined in English and there is a strong emphasis put on English for business.

A student leaving high school with a good level of English is required to accrue at least 95 credits over the course of a three year degree programme. This is a brief breakdown of compulsory areas:

6 credits: English

6 credits: Chinese culture and civilization

9 credits: Out of discipline studies (3 of which are “General Education” modules e.g. rational thinking)

Although the Chinese culture may seem odd, I think it is mostly due to the fact that during the time that Hong Kong was under British control, the school children probably had a limited history education in relation to Chinese history. Since the handover back to mainland China this has become an important feature.

The grading of a module follows a letter system of A (excellent), B (good), C (adequate), D (marginal) and F (failure). The grades A-D also have a + and – factor (e.g. A+, A or A-). Some modules may only have a pass or fail situation in which case the grade P means “pass”. The letter grades are associated to a grade point from which the grade point average (GPA) is calculated. A+ (4.3), A (4.0), A- (3.7), B (3.3-2.7), C (2.3-1.7), D (1.0) and F (0.0). If a module is failed or a D grade obtained then the student is allowed to repeat it twice. Retake is not permitted for a dissertation type course.

As a scientist, in the UK most Universities give the students at least one day a week, every week in the laboratory. The practical laboratory work is a separate module and is typically worth 30-40% of the yearly credits. It is compulsory and as the saying goes, “failure is not an option”. The laboratory classes also use postgraduate students as demonstrators.

In Hong Kong, there is no separate laboratory classes. Each module will have one or possibly two practicals associated with it and these will be less than a day. They are overseen by technicians and there are no demonstrators. Maybe it is because of this structure that they do not cover many things but they certainly get significantly less exposure to practical chemistry and in general there are several areas which are not covered in the lectures that would be core to a UK chemistry degree.

The final year undergraduate practical research project is also optional! In the UK this may be 50% of the final year mark, working in a research lab alongside PhD students and postdocs. The final year project (FYP) for students at CityU is worth 6 credits. Since they have less practical experience they do need more supervision and guidance (this include the standard safety and good lab practice). They are also not allowed to use certain equipment. For any chemist reading this, they are not allowed to use the NMR – so I have to run their samples for them. This means it is quite a lot of work for me. I admit it can be frustrating but I work hard to teach them what it means to do research.

Since my experience is in a science department I can give an insight into the workings of this curriculum but I am certainly not able to comment on other faculties. I admit I sometimes find it worrying that the students have gaps in their core skills (e.g. critical thinking), knowledge and practical experience but I have to accept (no matter how hard) that this is a different culture with a different education system.


About Alana Collis

Hi, my name is Alana Collis. I am a Postdoctoral Research Fellow working in Hong Kong. I hope this blog will give readers an insight into working in an academic research environment and general life in Hong Kong as well as things that will help you get started here! After completing a PhD at the University of Nottingham in synthetic organic chemistry, I moved to a position at the University of Warwick as a Postdoctoral Research Fellow in the Department of Chemistry. During my time at Warwick I was working with Researchers from Warwick Manufacturing Group (materials and engineering) and Warwick-HRI (plant sciences) as well as Industry and other University research departments. This gave me chance to see how different disciplines and departments subtly vary in set up and practices. In the Summer of 2010, I went to a Gordon Research conference in the US. This in itself was a great experience but it was followed up two months later by an e-mail from an academic I met at the conference..... would I be interested in a postdoctoral position in Hong Kong?!

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