New school brings degrees of hope

PUBLISHED : Monday, 30 June, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 30 June, 2008, 12:00am

One of the greatest challenges in running a new community college in Hong Kong is winning the hearts and minds of the public. According to John Clark, president of Yew Chung Community College of International Studies, people need to be made aware that students with associate degrees are equipped to study at a university once their interests have been fully explored and developed.

Mr Clark raised this concern at the opening of his new college at Lai Kok Shopping Centre in Cheung Sha Wan.

Since 2000, when the government gave the go-ahead for associate degree courses for Form Seven school-leavers, community colleges have mushroomed in the city. But the public's general perception of these courses has been negative. Students are often regarded as inferior to university students. Many graduates are left in the cold when looking for jobs, and their qualifications are being discriminated against and not recognised by employers.

But Mr Clark said that the days when universities only catered for 18 per cent of the elite were gone. 'A large group of students are capable of studying at universities in Hong Kong. As a knowledge-based society, the city requires adults with an array of skills to cope with the development.' The new school was established at the invitation of the government, which wants at least 60 per cent of school-leavers to continue with their higher education.

However, Mr Clark described the government's policy on associate degrees as 'lenient entry [easy for students to take up studies], but stringent exit [difficult for sub-degree graduates to seek recognition on graduating]'.

'Many secondary school-leavers are at a loss as to what their real interests and strengths are. Associate degree courses are here to help these students explore and develop their real interests, and to prepare them for studies at a university that best suits them.'

He said that in the United States, the original home of community colleges, about 48 per cent of all graduates from undergraduate programmes had started at a community college, and many parents and students chose community colleges over universities because they offered smaller classes and more supportive and interactive teaching.

'At our college, students will not be limited to studying one academic or vocational field. 'Instead, they are open to various subjects that can truly address their needs,' Mr Clark said.

Students can choose to study in either English or Chinese. The curriculum will prepare students for degree studies in a wide range of subjects, such as arts, humanities, social sciences and business management.

Students are taught in small classes and are encouraged to think critically, and actively discuss topics during lessons. Courses will consist of more tutorials than lectures.

For now, the college is targeting local and international students in Hong Kong and the mainland, but Mr Clark said, in the long run, the college hoped to attract more overseas students and turn the college into an international one.

The college is unique as students are required to conduct four weeks of field study outside of Hong Kong. 'They can look at an issue of their interest. For example, how a university operates, how a community deals with elderly people or the food culture of a city. With guidance from a tutor, students then present a report on their research in class,' he said.

Outstanding students can transfer to one of the universities, which the college has an arrangement with, to do their degree courses. These include institutions in Britain (7), Europe (3), the US (5), Canada (2), Australia (5) and Hong Kong (4). Further arrangements are being made with more, including universities in Japan, South Korea and possibly France. The link-up will offer students a selection of more than 30 subject courses.

Mr Clark said the college had signed three- to five-year agreements with these universities, guaranteeing that Yew Chung students met the standards.

Students who wish to enrol at Yew Chung must satisfy the minimum associate degree entrance requirements set by the government.

The college will offer two interlinked programmes: a one-year university foundation diploma programme (25 places) for Form Five graduates, or international students completing Year 11, and a two-year associate degree programme (25 places) leading to an associate in arts degree for Year 12 or 13 and A-level graduates.

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