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Posts Tagged ‘overseas universities’

The intriguing thing about government announcements is sometimes what is not said, not what is. Consider the bit in the budget speech about a new scheme to provide scholarships which will enable young Hongkongers to attend overseas universities. The part of the speech goes like this: “I propose to inject an additional $480 million into the HKSAR Government Scholarship Fund (GSF) to set up scholarships for outstanding local students to take degree courses or teacher training programmes in prestigious overseas universities. I expect that about 20 scholarships will be awarded each year. Students who receive the awards must undertake to teach in Hong Kong upon graduation for at least two years or a period equivalent to the duration of receiving the scholarships.”

Charitable observers may see here an attempt, however clumsy, to upgrade the standards of the local teaching profession. Not a very good attempt, actually. The scholarships are not to be means-trested, apparently, so most of their recipients will be people who would have gone to a university somewhere anyway. The advantages of prestigious overseas universities are much exaggerated. I say this having attended one myself.

But it seems this proposal has an interesting history. According to Regina Ip (column in the Post on Sunday) the original proposal was that the scheme would, at a cost of $1.5 billion, finance 25 post-grad scholarships and 50 undergrad ones. Students would be required to pursue “world-class programmes at top universities” and the aim had nothing to do with teaching. The political party which put forward the idea — Ms Ip did not say which one — apparently hoped to produce a pool of world-class talent who would be the future leaders of Hong Kong. This implausible project did not impress the Education Bureau. This may be due to bureaucratic conservatism. It may be due to familiarity with the research in these matters, which suggests that the benefits of “world-class programmes at top universities” are grossly overstated. Anyway the project was pruned vigorously, and what was left is now focussed on teaching.

According to Ms Ip officials now say that priority will be given to students of English or pre-school education. Abandoning her touching faith in the magical properties of top universities she says that this makes no sense. An English degree from such a place is unnecessary and pursuers of other subjects – presumably in other places – may make better teachers of English. More questionably she says that universities do not teach education at undergraduate level. Well some of them do and some of them don’t. The “prestigious” ones can barely bring themselves to teach it at all. A point she might also have made is that none of the “top universities” teach early childhood education.

Actually there is a problem with universities and education. The people who teach in universities and run them have generally had no training in education as such at all. As a result the technical standards of university teaching are abysmal. But university teachers do not know this. They think (as most of us do on most topics) that they are at least above average, and since this has been achieved with a minimum of preparation and training, then teaching must be easy. The people who teach it, moreover, are concerned with practical matters with have low prestige in university contexts. Theory is much more interesting. So in many universities education is a neglected and scorned area, starved of funds, prestige and proficient students.

This is a pity. One of the things which shines out of international comparisons of education systems is that in places where the system works the teaching profession is highly regarded and attracts able recruits. This is something worth imitating.  How curious, then, that the government still refuses to take a step which would cost nothing and raise the status of the profession overnight. The Institute of Education should be a university. It isn’t. Rectifying this would do much more for local teaching than sending a few rich kids overseas at the taxpayer’s expense. And cost a lot less.

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