• Mon
  • Dec 29, 2014
  • Updated: 1:33pm
My Take
PUBLISHED : Thursday, 03 October, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 03 October, 2013, 12:54am

Rankings belie the real purpose of universities: to educate

Local university chiefs endlessly fret over their institutions' rankings by foreign media. Worse, they worry about becoming less competitive if rankings slip a notch or two relative to say, mainland universities, as if they are fierce competitors out to clean up the city's young talent pool. In doing so, they are talking and acting like our chief executive and commerce bureau chiefs.

But wait a minute, universities are not cities or businesses; they are there to educate the young and discover new knowledge which may or may not have immediate commercial value. Universities serve a completely different purpose in society. So let's remember that and forget about the latest rankings or business fads. Yes, businesses should provide more funding but let's not turn our universities into their extra research arms and our professors into their glorified employees like they do now in many leading US universities.

The latest to whine about that is Professor Tony Chan Fan-cheong, the head of the University of Science and Technology. I know, every time a university chief or the Science Park CEO warns ad nauseam about Hong Kong losing its competitive edge, we report it like it's "Very Serious News". Well, it's not. Neither are university rankings. Yes, it's good advertising or bad press depending whether you get a good or bad ranking. But most of these surveys are meaningless. They are not done for any real motive to find great schools, rather because it's an easy way to attract readers who are parents, as well as advertisers and sponsors.

And that is just part of our obsession with competitiveness that is most worrying. Referring to the likes of Peking University and Tsinghua University, Professor Chan said they are working hard to raise standards. "They have global ambition and great students," he said. "That's the competition we're up against. We have to keep running to stay in place."

Well, go to local campuses today and you will find half the students speaking Putonghua.

In a letter written shortly before he died, Gustave Flaubert wrote: "I have always tried to live in an ivory tower; but a tide of merde is beating at its walls, threatening to undermine it." Buried in merde is a widespread idea to run universities like a competitive business.


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hard times !
our universities are thronged with students speaking Puthonghua and their number might easily reach half of them. Don't forget Cantonese is the local dialect and not Puthonghua ! That clearly reflects nowadays, our universities are no longer the institutions to cultivate local talents but instead institutions for the talents across the border ! What a scene it is !
sudo rm -f cy
Indeed, the main reason our universities are ranked so high is the unhealthy amount of "international" (i.e. Chinese) students we accept, which is frankly not the best metric to use. And the the truth is they'll keep coming even if our education system is complete ****, because no one is going to trust an academic degree from the People's Republic of Cheating. Which, by the way, is the actual title of a Pearl Report episode on academic fraud.
I agree that the most important purpose of an University is to Educate... to foster independent thinking and the ability to adapt to the ever changing world. However, to achieve excellence in education, a huge amount of resources is needed to attract the best faculty and students and to invest in extremely costly facilities and programs. We all know that the ranking system is not perfect, but it is a reasonable indicator of overall trends. Whether we like it nor not, It is an indispensable tool for the University to raise the much needed funds and to attract top talents.
Your question to another reader: "Have you actually been in university campuses?" Answer: Of course not!
Judging by the quality of comments in Mr. Lo's column, it's unlikely these readers own a quality sheepskin from a decent institution.
This is not to be confused with blind snobbishness in brand name schools. Mr. Lo's disclosure, attendance in a small Annapolis college specializing in Great Books, is a case in point. I personally know 2 overachievers from this school who could outthink or out write many from the hallowed halls of Ivy League.
It is a crying shame many HK students could only converse in Cantonese. In Switzerland, Austria and Germany, all students converse in Hochdeutsch. It is also the standard written language. Perhaps HK students' problem with Putonghua is poor writing skills.
In my day, European professors spoke English with heavy native accents. My Swiss professor once introduced a speaker in heavy German accent. To which I foolishly ad libbed, "Was haben Sie gesagt?" Yet their mastery of English diction is superior to the vast majority of native English speakers. Young Germans I know today all speak and write better English than HK students.
Of course we all love our mother tongue. However, it's a mix of HK inferiority complex and provincial obsession that has prevented some of us from learning Putonghua.
Singaporeans, like other Chinese tourists I have been paying attention to in Europe, are fluent in at least one other dialect.
Shouldn't university chiefs worry if a worldwide assessment of universities indicate that they are slipping? They can't be conscientious about their work if they don't. The Times and QS rankings are well-established and are highly respected within the university population. Outsiders like Alex Lo wouldn't know their value, so he shouldn't present this as 'Very Serious News'.
The unhealthy sound of prejudice!
Have you actually been in university campuses? They are certainly not thronged by Putonghua speakers! So you can relax about this.
So, your statement that " the main reason our universities are ranked so high is the unhealthy amount of "international" (i.e. Chinese) students we accept" is NOT correct. I thought not. Surely more factors are taken into consideration than just international outlook.
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"International outlook" is worth 7.5%. Not too much, but the one factor that's the easiest to "improve" on. I trust other surveys are similar." (Posting again unthreaded because SCMP comments are the buggiest feature on any website I've ever seen.)
Agree with difficulties with this column. The colored boxes are sometimes unavailable, one's comments disappear even though they are supposed to have been 'posted' etc. I don't understand why it can't be more straightforward.




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