Letters to the Editor, March 21, 2014

PUBLISHED : Friday, 21 March, 2014, 4:40am
UPDATED : Thursday, 27 March, 2014, 2:31am

University rankings overstated

On March 6, I saw more than 10 press articles about the University of Hong Kong's slippage and the University of Science and Technology's "surge" in the Times Higher Education World University Rankings 2013-14.

Some reports sounded very alarming, saying that HKU's ranking had plummeted and its undisputed title might be usurped by HKUST.

The media seems to have over-dramatised the issue of ranking and the so-called performance of Hong Kong universities in the league tables.

Most of the newspapers referred mainly to the Times Higher Education rankings without explaining clearly the methodology for the ranking exercise and it was not properly compared with the methodology used in the previous exercises by the same organisation.

It was reported that one of the criteria used was that over 10,000 academics were asked about the perceived prestige of various universities around the world.

I have to agree with the HKU registrar who queried how these individuals were selected. It appears that such a survey is not a scientific way of ranking a university and is rather subjective and confined to the personal views and experience of the individuals concerned. If this were the only criterion used, this would have relegated the ranking exercise to a beauty pageant.

Ranking is important and can be a useful reference for various stakeholders.

However, in my view, dropping a few places in a couple of years is not devastating, especially when the methodology or criteria used in the ranking exercise may be changed (and for good reasons) from time to time. HKU ranked 21st in the Times Higher Education rankings 2010-11; 34th in 2011-12; 35th in 2012-13 and 43rd in 2013-14.

In the Quacquarelli Symonds (QS) rankings, HKU was 22nd in 2011; 23rd in 2012; and 26th in 2013.

As an alumna, I am not at all worried about this apparently downward trend.

My advice to younger friends considering university education will not be changed because of HKU's drop in ranking in the two league tables.

Youngsters should consider their own interests and the disciplines offered in the various universities rather than universities' ranking.

Ranking is important to branding. However, it is the quality of teaching, research and scholarship that counts, not the number on a league table.

I believe this is also the view of incoming vice-chancellor Professor Peter Mathieson, who has assured the alumni that while ranking is important, it should not drive academic policy at HKU.

Beatrice Lee, Lam Tin


Not a good tool for learning languages

I am grateful to Any Mo Wai-kit ("Memorised dictation good for students", March 7) for replying to my comments about using memorised dictation to teach English ("Not the right way to teach English", February 27).

What she didn't understand though is that I referred to my own experience in learning French, German, Italian and Putonghua in a classroom setting.

None of these are my native language (which is English), although I am now close to being bilingual in English and Putonghua. (My fifth foreign language was and is being learnt on the streets of this fair city.) In none of these courses did we use memorised dictation to learn. Spelling in the first three was learnt phonetically, by learning how the letters match the sounds.

For Putonghua, pinyin was learnt very quickly the same way, and Chinese characters by matching pinyin with characters. Spelling tests and read dictations were used to reinforce what was learnt.

Read dictations help students to match spelling, pronunciation and context and are a much better tool than memorised passages, which are more of a memory test.

Translation and getting us to make our own sentences were also quite effective at teaching different sentence structures.

The latter method also engaged our creativity and interest.

I have also taught English as a foreign language in China and the UK. At no time was memorised dictation used, nor was it even mentioned as a method during the training course I took.

As I said previously, it may have a valid place elsewhere in the curriculum for training memory, but it is not a good tool for learning a foreign language.

Roger Phillips, Sheung Shui


Leung trying to ease plight of poor in HK

Since Leung Chun-ying took up the post of chief executive, the quarrels with him and criticism of him have never stopped.

I accept that some of the criticism is justified, such as attempts to introduce national education to primary and secondary schools.

However, he has recognised poverty is a serious social problem in Hong Kong and made efforts to alleviate it.

For example, an official poverty line has been set to identify Hong Kong's needy and help establish suitable policies to tackle poverty.

One of the measures he has introduced to help people on low incomes is the Low-Income Working Family Allowance which will benefit more than 200,000 poor families.

He also introduced measures aimed at stabilising prices in the property market.

These policies show clearly that C. Y. Leung is really trying to deal with the long-term problems in Hong Kong which the last chief executive, Donald Tsang Yam-kuen, did not address.

Despite his best efforts, many Hongkongers still mistrust him and his popularity rating remains low.

We should always be willing to be critical of the government and its policies, but we should not be too biased when judging its work.

We should try to be more focused and ask ourselves if a particular government policy is a genuine effort to improve the quality of people's lives.

Shirley Sham Wing-yin, Kowloon Tong


Review the minimum wage annually

I refer to the letter by Wah Chi-shing ("Chief executive trying to fight poverty", March 17).

I agree with the correspondent that the chief executive has tried to address the problem of the huge gap between rich and poor in Hong Kong. However, I believe the government could do more.

I think the Minimum Wage Ordinance should require an annual review of the statutory hourly rate rather than looking at it every two years.

This is important because inflation is generally higher than the percentage increases in salaries and wages in Hong Kong.

Emily So, Tseung Kwan O


MTR bike ban would hit cycling in city

I refer to the letter by Jaden Ho Lok-hin ("Unacceptable obstruction on crowded trains", March 14).

I think it would be inappropriate to ban people from bringing their bicycles on to MTR carriages.

I appreciate the importance of the MTR as a mass transit system. It is an indispensable part of the city's transport network.

However, the government is trying to reduce roadside air pollution levels produced by traffic.

One way of doing this is to encourage people to use more environmentally friendly ways to get around, such as public transport and cycling.

Should we ban bikes from the MTR because they may be seen as an inconvenience?

If such a ban is implemented, surely this will discourage people from cycling in areas of Hong Kong where it is a feasible option.

This is a pollution-free form of transport and so the government must provide sufficient facilities for people who want to cycle.

Of course, the presence of bikes in MTR carriages may at times cause inconvenience to passengers. It is therefore important for the MTR Corporation to strike a balance so that bicycles are not banned, but the level of inconvenience is kept to a minimum.

With the population increasing in Hong Kong, it may be the right time to undertake a review of our transport networks and see how they could be made more efficient.

One thing the government can do is to develop interchanges for buses and the MTR to ease road congestion.

Also, buses could be given higher priority in terms of road usage and this might help ease overcrowding on the MTR.

Willis Wan Chun-yu, Sai Kung


Air con means it's freezing inside all year

Sven Topp is quite right ("Turn off Hong Kong's arctic air cons", March 7).

There are many buildings in Hong Kong where you cannot turn off the air conditioning as the windows will not open. Inside a building it can be freezing.

Not only in winter but also in summer, you need to locate the air-conditioning outlets in the ceiling, or elsewhere, before accepting a table in a restaurant. One Sunday earlier this month, I had lunch in a restaurant with my overcoat on.

My home faces south so that I catch the breeze of the south-west monsoon in the summer and avoid as far as possible what can be the bitterly cold northeasterly monsoon in the winter.

The Chinese have a saying, "Even with a thousand taels of gold it is difficult to buy a house facing south."

Dan Waters, Mid-Levels