Publicity stunt not music to the ears

Editorial | Mary Ma 10 Aug 2018

At first glance, it looked like such a coup for the University of Hong Kong when figures were released to show how many students scoring perfect results in public exams were admitted to the SAR's two medical schools.

HKU's Li Ka Shing Faculty of Medicine reportedly nabbed 16 of them. Perhaps the figure should be changed to 18 after two others were declared perfect following a review of their exam papers.

Dean Gabriel Leung took so much pride in the elite that he played music with one of them, and helped another put on a doctor's robe.

Trotted out before the media was a marketing setting of the first class. In contrast, publicity stunts were absent at the Chinese University of Hong Kong. Perhaps it was because CUHK hadn't recruited as many top students. But first impressions are often misleading.

Although Francis Chan Ka-leung, dean of medicine at CUHK, didn't play the piano or the cello, he had more reasons than his HKU counterpart to be proud of the admission results this year.

First, his faculty has made some gains in enrolling students achieving perfect exam results. Second, it has admitted more medical students via the Joint University Programs Admissions System than the medical school at HKU.

Of the 269 top Diploma of Secondary Education graduates applying to study medicine via the JUPAS mechanism, more than half of them - 155 - chose CUHK.

Without doubt, HKU and CUHK would have no difficulty filling their medical schools as both are expected by the government to increase their respective intakes from 235 in 2017-18 to 265 in 2018-19. They can do so by tapping non-DSE graduates outside the JUPAS channel.

But the problem is that the current mix of DSE and non-DSE students studying medicine would be upset if the low admission rate of JUPAS students persists at HKU, which would lead to a structural shift from the existing balance.

Unless it's deliberate, something is probably wrong somewhere in HKU's admission.

If this is criticized as a biased observation, HKU's stunt showcasing the elite students would also give rise to prejudice because the elite - however brilliant - constitutes only a small part of the intake.

It's curious that more than half of the students have selected CUHK's medical school in Sha Tin via JUPAS, while its rival in Pok Fu Lam is deemed to be Number 1. Students are smart and know what suits them best, after comparing the available programs carefully.

The profound question is, why are HKU's programs less attractive to the students? Is it because Hong Kong's oldest university sticks to tradition, while CUHK is prepared to be more innovative? For example, CUHK's Global Physician-Leadership Stream is a relatively young program, but has proven successful since its launch in 2013.

Leung attributed the poorer rate of intake to students not feeling confident enough to apply to the HKU faculty, and promised greater clarity in admission criteria to improve enrollment. I doubt that will be the right solution.

Perhaps it would be more practical to rely less on publicity stunts and more on educational excellence.

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