Unis pick up the pieces

Education | Cara Chen 26 Nov 2019

Christina chen, a student at the City University, had been preparing her graduation speech for a long time. She was also looking forward to her postgraduate life at CityU.

To her surprise, the ceremony was canceled after the Lau Ming Wai Academic Building, the venue for the ceremony, was set on fire on November 13.

CityU announced an early end to the semester on November 14 due to property damage and vandalism as protestors built barricades and police fired tear gas on the campus.

Lecturers and tutors suddenly found themselves racing to adapt by arranging live-streamed classes, video-recorded lectures or other alternative tutorials. All of this came as local universities became the latest battleground for the ongoing social unrest.

Chinese University announced the end of Term 1 after the university's Sha Tin campus was plunged into a series of confrontations between police and demonstrators on November 12. All classes were suspended, effective immediately, until the beginning of Term 2 on January 6.

The six other government-funded universities also announced the early end of the first semester after at least three of them saw clashes between protestors and police on campus.

"I was a bit upset," Chen said, explaining that the school's arrangements were a last resort but one that caused a lot of inconvenience and dissatisfaction.

"We have to do video presentations instead, which is more difficult as we don't have a connection with the audience like we do in class."

The engineering student spent most of her time in the university laboratory.

She complained that submission deadlines were repeatedly delayed as both professors and students weren't used to conducting online classes and had technical problems.

"Also, the exam period has not been determined, leaving students very confused."

Other students have been luckier. For instance, Taiwan's National Chiao Tung University gave Taiwanese students at CityU access to their campuses for living and studying in order to complete their academic work for the semester. But for those in Hong Kong, all they can do is struggle on.

Meanwhile, Baptist University, which was barricaded by protestors for days, replaced face-to-face teaching with online sessions or postponed teaching to an unconfirmed date. Unlike CityU, students raised the possibility of continuing their semester in the nearest border city. The School of Communication at HKBU arranged for full-time students in two postgraduate programs to finish the semester at the HKBU Shenzhen Institute of Research and Continuing Education in Nanshan District, Shenzhen.

Students were given one week to finish some of their classes during the last two weeks of the semester and were responsible for their own catering and accommodation. All make-up classes were videotaped for those who couldn't attend while part-time students had classes rescheduled for December 1 in Hong Kong. Meanwhile, all taught postgraduate programs have subsidized each non-local student HK$1,000 for expenses incurred as a result of accidents.

Rachel Gao, a student in one of the programs, said she felt like she was back in the last year of her high school when she had to spend nine hours a day in lectures. The new schedule, which reduced the time to digest knowledge and forced students to rush learning, was certainly not as good as the original teaching schedule on the Hong Kong campus. But Gao was glad the school had been open to suggestions.

"This is really a plan that takes into account the interests of all parties as best as possible," she said. She has spent nearly one week in Hong Kong waiting for the school's final plan."Such an arrangement is not to finish all the course, but at least some of it, which can reduce students' pressure for the next semester," said Raymond Li, a professor at the School of Communication at HKBU. "It was also an unforgettable experience for students who continued to study in such a social environment."

One student wrote on WeChat: "I was touched. It reminded me of the story of when the National South West Associated University moved to Kunming, Yunan and continued teaching and studying after their original campus in Changsha, Hunan was bombed by invading Japanese forces in 1938."

At CityU, Chen could only envy the arrangements of nearby HKBU while lamenting the damage done to her test samples in the school lab. "The experiment is at a standstill, and I don't know when the missing data will be made up," Chen said. "I just hope everything will be over soon, and my graduation ceremony next year can be held as planned."

cara.chen@singtaonewscorp.com

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