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SG's speech on 3+3+4 symposium First Year Experience

"3+3+4" Symposium on First Year Experience
hosted by CityU

28 April 2010 (Wednesday)

Speech by Mr Michael V Stone, JP
Secretary General, University Grants Committee

Professor Chan (Chi-hou), distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen,

        Good morning. It is a pleasure to join colleagues in the education sector today at this symposium hosted by the City University of Hong Kong. First of all, on behalf of the UGC, I would like to express our thanks to CityU for organising this event. The symposium today is the ninth symposium in the “3+3+4” series. Since late 2008 when the first symposium was held, these symposia have provided an excellent forum for dialogue of “3+3+4” issues among frontline colleagues in the education sector, encouraging ideas and information sharing. Through these symposia, we have the opportunity to talk about such matters as admissions, interface with the school sector, contents of the curricula, language issues, and assessment.

2.  Today you will be discussing the important matter of students’ transition from secondary school to university education, and how the first year experience can be enhanced to foster students’ learning and development.

3.  I am sure we all have vivid memories of our university experience. Some people may remember throwing themselves into lectures and tutorials and others into extra-curricular activities – especially those banned at home. Bill Clinton recalled the conversations, readings and trips in his time in university, while George W Bush remembered falling asleep in the leather couches in the library reading room in Yale. Even Margaret Thatcher was daunted by her university. And that memory of university life is, to a large extent, moulded by our impressions of our first year of study.

4.  It may be a cliché to say that “a good beginning is half the work done”, but like all clichés, it has an element of truth in it. A good beginning in the first year will better prepare students for success in their coming university studies. A good transition will bring about strong performance and a happy and fulfilling university career. This will foster students’ learning and development, so that they can get the most out of the university.

5.  However, a new student in Year I may find himself “a fish out of water”. The transition from secondary school to university is a huge challenge to a student. While a large part of the responsibility of “settling in” must go to the student himself, we need to try to help our students have a smooth transition and help them succeed. And the first task is to understand the challenges the students face and the common transition problems they encounter.

6.  All this is a very multifacetted task – as the range of issues and speakers at this symposium attests to. It ranges from : understanding well what is happening in the senior secondary forms at school – both curriculum and pedegogy; to designing a fit-for-purpose curriculum for the four years of study and particularly Year I; to conselling; to integrated co-curricula and extra-curricula activities – and more. And in all this, institutions need to think hard about how students nowadays learn. If I was delivering this little chat to a group of 18 year old students, I should probably have an interactive line opened so they could SMS me questions – as well as posting the whole chat on line, so that half need not bother to turn up in person.

7.  Of course, with your vast experience in working with students, you know all these matters much better than I do. But let me make one or two observations on what I think may be the key issues on the first year experience.

8.  We often bemoan the fact  – yes we think it is a fact – that the younger generation really is not as good as our generation was. Language skills, attitude, outlook, etc. But for all Hong Kong being an international city, it does seem to me that Hong Kong students are becoming more parochial rather than less. I guess this is not so surprising, given the quality and coverage of our newspapers and magazines. But it has implications for the first year experience. I suggest that broadening cultural, political, social interactions and curricula will be important to shape students to look beyond Hong Kong, to take the step to chat with that Gweilo exchange student and more.

9.  Second, effective engagement, knowledge transmission and assessment procedures for the new, young generation. I talked earlier about having my blog/facebook open while doing this chat to receive constant feedback. Of course, at the end of my series of lectures on the first year experience, I would set an assessment which required handwritten essay type answers. Everyone would fail! But seriously, how do you balance the “byte, SMS” vocabulary of current youngsters with the need occasionally to be able to write intelligently and discursively? In my profession, writing is still an art – as well as very necessary to have paper trails for the inevitable visit from the Director of Audit, Commission of Inquiry or Legislative Council grand inquisition. Should the Sir Humphrey’s of this world all be an endangered species?

10.  Onto more down to earth matters, the UGC has recently reviewed reports from institutions on their preparation for “3+3+4”. We note that a major focus of institutions’ effort is, rightly, being put on the development of the curriculum, and institutions are making good progress. Institutions are also working to provide better support services to cope with the changing needs of their students in various areas. This is very encouraging indeed. But is that effort being made with the need to facilitate students’ transition to university studies in the forefront of peoples in minds? Well, I hope the answer is yes, and it is a question I would like to invite you to further consider.

11.  I look forward to fruitful discussions in the coming sessions, and I wish today’s symposium a great success. Thank you very much.