Saturday, 25 February 2012

Expo-sure in the East.

A long day in the convention centre talking to parents and potential students. There's a scramble here with nearly every British University represented, giving a bewildering array of options to anybody looking to come to the UK for their higher education. It sadly brings into focus how unsubtle the process is. There are very few nuanced conversations about the teaching or research profiles of each institution, rather it's 'Englishness' that's being sold. A green and pleasant vision of fair play, Harry Potter and crime free cities.

Sometimes I'm shocked by how far other places will go to sign up students without really checking their English language skills or suitability for the course proposed. It all feels like a fairly dark art, mostly carried out by non-academics, who will never see the student again.

The students are also interesting. Places at Hong Kong Universities are highly sought, but each year a shortfall of around 30,000 find that they'll have to leave the region to continue their studies. Australia and UK are the top destinations, but in someways this is seen locally as a second division choice. Hong Kong is a high achieving society and although academically the students we met today are more than equal to the domestic students we attract to St Mary's the difference, perhaps, is that some of them carry a mark of disappointment. Again I felt that if we were more on the front foot we could make room to celebrate and champion divergent non-academic thinkers. Our largest cohorts - Sport, Education, Drama are all vocational in nature, I wonder whether, over time we can tackle some of the stigma towards non-academic subjects that many here feel.

For all my scepticism, we had a good team on the stand. Winston, Clarence and Tik, who do a lot of work for us in the Far East had flown in from Kuala Lumpur and together I think we were able to represent St Mary's in a realistic way. Our great strengths as a pastoral, tight knit community, close to London clearly does attract attention, but equally the gentle, village like atmosphere is not for everybody and ultimately it's not for us to force a decision on anybody.

I was pleased when things came to a close at around five o'clock and I could nip onto the Star Ferry back to Kowloon for a last night meal and an early night.

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