Students with poor Chinese-language results can find study options abroad

Those who can't make the grade in Chinese-language exams can still find many study options abroad, writes Linda Yeung

PUBLISHED : Monday, 28 July, 2014, 9:44am
UPDATED : Monday, 28 July, 2014, 9:44am

Joining hordes of parents and teenagers at an exhibition last weekend on UK education, Mr Chan (not his real name), a father of two teenage children, is considering sending them abroad after they finish secondary education.

He is not alone in looking to find alternative pathways for his children. Many others have been put off by the large number of graduates who can't get into local universities after failing to make the grade in Chinese language in this year's Hong Kong Diploma of Secondary Education examination, the results of which were released two weeks ago.

If a youngster makes a wrong decision, they can learn from it
Sylvia hui, ouhk 

Only 50.7 per cent of the candidates met the minimum university requirement in Chinese, making it the worst performing core subject this year. "It's so cruel," says the anxious father, who would only say that he worked in the banking sector.

"I am worried about my two kids who are attending English-medium schools. It is very difficult to meet the minimum requirement for Chinese. Even if they make it, how high is their chance of getting into a good local university? Universities here give many of their places to mainland students," he adds.

Luckily, study options are not in short supply, either abroad or locally. But the array of choices makes it important for parents and students to choose wisely.

Studying abroad certainly has benefits, such as fostering independence. But it is a costly option, and parents needs to be mindful of colleges with lax admissions requirements; they may have poor quality teaching that will not give foreign students the support and learning opportunities they thought they had paid for.

It is not always the case that students' English will improve while being abroad, either. "It is rare for British students to mix with international students," a college representative at the exhibition says.

"That's the reality. Some schools say only 5 per cent of their students are Chinese. But that 5 per cent covers all classes, from preparatory to upper secondary levels, whereas 50 per cent of the students in their A-level classes are Chinese."

Nonetheless, Britain is a multicultural country offering wide-ranging options for students from around the world. Even premier institutions such as the University of Warwick run foundation programmes on their campus for international students who cannot get direct entry into the university.

They will be admitted should they finish the one-year foundation course successfully.

But for medicine, dentistry and architecture, British institutions require A-level results.

The University of Reading also runs a campus-based foundation programme, which has been offered for 30 years. The admissions requirement for the course is level three in three HKDSE subjects, and an IELTS score of 6.5.

"We guarantee that if you pass, you will have a place in the undergraduate programme. Our average pass mark is 60 per cent of the final grade. As long as you get your 60 per cent, you will definitely get a place in Year One," says Craig Lennox, regional manager (East Asia) of Reading International Office.

The foundation qualifications offered by British universities are recognised by other institutions in the country, but not internationally. This means the qualification does not qualify the holder for degree studies in Hong Kong, or other parts of the world.

According to Lennox, in response to growing interest, his university is aiming to recruit 20 to 25 students from Hong Kong this year for its foundation course, up from about 20 last year.

A number of independent colleges are also running a plethora of foundation or A-level programmes to help students enter British universities.

"Usually, top UK universities prefer A-level results, the mid-ranking universities accept foundation qualification, and the lower-tiered institutions accept diplomas," says James Burnett, international director of Mander Portman Woodward, the operator of independent colleges offering A-level programmes.

Adding to the long list of study options, the London School of Economics (LSE) will launch two foundation programmes in Hong Kong in September, delivered by ARCH Education and the University of Hong Kong School of Professional and Continuing Education (HKU SPACE).

Burnett attributes the offers to the LSE's goal of recruiting the best students from around the world. Students completing the course are not guaranteed direct entry into the school.

Foundation or pre-university programmes are also in vast supply in Canada and Australia. Some overseas institutions even let students obtain an entire degree without having to leave the territory, or complete parts of a course here or abroad.

"The quality of courses offered by overseas institutions here varies widely," warns Sylvia Hui Wan-ling, registrar of Open University Hong Kong (OUHK), which offers full-time face-to-face degree courses.

"They don't provide much campus life. University education is not just about studying but also about mixing with fellow students, alumni, and getting involved in various activities," Hui says.

She advises parents and students to check out the standing of an overseas institution before signing up for its locally-offered courses.

Set up by the government in 1989 as a distance education provider, OUHK operates on a self-financing basis. It has 6,700 students enrolled in 22 face-to-face degree programmes offered by its four schools.

Its new academic complex, Jubilee College, opened this year to bolster the university's capacity in providing disciplines identified as growth areas by the government: testing and certification, nursing, and creative industries.

"We don't have as many resources as government-funded institutions, but we have a student affairs office that organises exchange and internships. We have 50 student societies catering to different interests," says Hui.

Hui adds that the university is aiming to set up dormitories to enrich students' campus life.

Charging an annual tuition fee of HK$60,000, higher than the HK$42,000 charged by government-funded universities, OUHK is cheaper than many private options. But it requires scores of at least levels 3-3-2-2 for the four core HKDSE subjects of Chinese, English, maths and liberal studies, as demanded by government-funded institutions.

Money may not be the key consideration for many families. Identifying the right place for the subject the child wants to study is a crucial step. Hui advises parents to respect the wishes of their children regarding where and what they should study.

"We don't want to see students studying what their parents want, instead of what they want. Even if a youngster makes a wrong decision, they can learn from it," says Hui. "My daughter is studying in the UK because she wanted to. But I am also happy for her to stay here."