The Australian Education Centre in Hong Kong has a library of over 150 videotapes on Australian schools, colleges and universities for reference by prospective students. Some have been produced by in house educational technology units, the majority by professional consultants. This paper evaluates the effectiveness of these programs in the light of what we know about today's Hong Kong students and questions whether producers are pitching their programs at the right audience. The author goes on to suggest how educational technology units could more effectively assist overseas students in making a choice and preparing themselves for success in the Australian university system.
Then, in the mid 1970s things began to change for the Lucky Country: first, there was an economic boom in Asia which cut the already wobbly supports from under our protected industries and rapidly raised living standards in Japan, Hong Kong, Taiwan and Korea; then the bottom fell out of the export agriculture and minerals markets. Australia was left exposed as a country living in an illusion.
When, at the end of the 80s, Bob Hawke exhorted us to give up the dreams of the Lucky Country and become a "Clever Country", he probably had the city states of Hong Kong and Singapore in mind as models. These two economic "Mini-Dragons" have no mineral resources, no agriculture, no natural resources other than their people, yet their per capita foreign reserves are the highest in the world and their economies continue to grow in the face of a world recession.
The change of emphasis in our dealings with Asia is nowhere more marked than in education. Australian schools, TAFE colleges, ELICOS centres, business colleges and universities are profiting from the increased wealth and heightened aspirations of Asian families by actively recruiting fee paying overseas students who want a Western style English education.
The recruitment of overseas students has become an economic necessity at a time of cutbacks in financial resources. Some schools and universities have gone so far as hiring consultants and advertising agencies to promote their merits. Austrade has recognised the direct and indirect benefits to Australia of exporting education and organises regular Education Fairs in the major capitals of Asia where state education departments, independent schools and universities mount elaborate and impressive displays. And, in spite of adverse news stories on unemployment and the economy and scandals over English Language colleges, Australia attracts 4-5000 Hong Kong students per year - the same as Britain, Canada and the USA.
Educational technology units have important roles to play in this process of educational entrepreneurialism:
Over the past 10-15 years there has been a dramatic shift in the socio-economic profile of the Hong Kong undergraduate population. University study is no longer exclusively the province of the privileged elite and a first degree has become a prerequisite for any professional position.
Since 1981 there has been a 300+% increase in government funded undergraduate places. There are now seven degree granting institutions in the territory. The current plan is for student numbers to increase by another 30% over the next three years.
|Number of degree places (including undergraduate and postgraduate) provided by the UPGC funded institutions:|
|(full time equivalent)|
(full time equivalent)
Number of degree students graduated from UPGC funded institutions:
The looming 1997 hand over to China combined with the 1989 Tiananmen Square crackdown has also had an effect on the socio-economic mix of the student population. By some counts, as many as 60% of tertiary educated, middle class families have either emigrated to Britain, Canada, the USA and Australia or sent their children to be educated overseas as "insurance".
The effect of the overall increase in student numbers, combined with the wholesale emigration of an entire "class" has been considerable. Fifteen years ago at the University of Hong Kong, where English is the official language of instruction, 75% of students would have come from homes where at least one parent had been to university and English was the language spoken in the home. Today, 75% of students come from homes where neither parent has been to university, where Cantonese is the language of communication and where 50% of students do not have their own room or their own desk for study. [Source: University of Hong Kong Counselling Centre]
A profile of today's typical Hong Kong undergraduate population would show:
In more recent times, the signing of the Joint Declaration (on the hand over of Hong Kong to China in 1997) has seen a rapid increase in applications for emigration from the Hong Kong middle class. Many parents who do not qualify under Business Immigration schemes believe that having children with overseas qualifications is important to their chances of successful emigration. An increasing number of these applicants are by no means privileged or wealthy (at least in Hong Kong terms) and are likely to have borrowed money to study overseas.
The profile of a "typical" Hong Kong applicant for an Australian university place would be very similar to the Hong Kong undergraduates described above.
The principal reason applicants give for choosing to study in Australia is that relatives or friends live there or the family has an Australian visa and intends to move here after 1997. Comparatively few approach the Centre still undecided about choice of country to study in.
About 50% are applying to study overseas because they did not gain admission to the institution of choice in Hong Kong. (For students wanting an English language degree, the University of Hong Kong, with 12,000 undergraduate places in nine Faculties, is the only choice in the territory.)
Future migration is less of an issue than it was five years ago. Most of today's applicants assume they will return to Hong Kong to work and seem reconciled to giving the Chinese takeover a chance. Opportunities for work in Hong Kong and in the Special Economic Zones are a lot more rosy than in Australia.
Racial prejudice is an issue, as is organised crime in the form of Asian Triad gangs (a particular concern about Vancouver and San Francisco at the moment). but the major concerns of Chinese students today are no different to those of Australian students: financial and academic.
The screenings are not well attended. No students watch the videos in order to make a choice between Australia and some other country, or even between one university and another. On the whole, videos are used to reinforce the decision the students have already made and they sometimes invite parents or friends to come and look at where they will be studying.
The programs are also screened by visiting educational delegations to introduce their presentations. According to Stella Chan, Manager of the AEC, this tends to be a more effective use of the video.
Apart from the excess of cliche and repetition, (and, after all, how many students are going to watch more than one or two anyway?) it is clear that many of these programs are being made for the wrong audience and carry messages about Australia which reinforce unfortunate stereotypes.
They are not all bad. The most popular program screening at the AEC is not about education at all. "Bridging the Gap" was produced specifically for a Hong Kong audience by the Information Office of the Australian High Commission to encourage business migration. It is simply a linked series of interviews with successful Chinese who have made it in Australia: Alderman Henry Tsang, parliamentarian Helen Sham Ho, actor Jackie Chan, Vice Chancellor Wang Gungwu and his wife, plus restauranteurs, estate agents, herbalists and business people. The program is parochial, comprehensible and very simple in structure. Watch the audience as they view it after one of the Australian propaganda videos - their expressions change from polite puzzlement to wide smiles.
Most universities taking overseas students either provide or recommend an introductory ELICOS course to ensure that the student's English is adequate for understanding lectures. Some even provide special counselling services and support groups for overseas students. Remedial English is of course necessary for many students, but a "satisfactory" score on an English test is no guarantee of success at university study.
Many Asian students come to Australian universities from an educational culture which lays stress on modelling and learning by rote rather than on academic argument and inquiry. It is not until one has mastered the known facts that one is qualified to offer an opinion. They see themselves as "observers and reporters not as participants" (Allison, 1991) and the idea of putting forward their own ideas in a seminar, let alone disputing the case with a teacher, is alien, not to say extremely rude.
For students used to working from a single textbook or reproducing the words of a teacher, the idea of going back to original sources and weighing the opinions of one authority against another is also unfamiliar, even threatening.
At the University of Hong Kong the problem of introducing students to a Western academic environment has been exacerbated in recent years by the changes in the composition of the student population I described above. English is no longer the language of communication outside the lecture room and in some faculties seminars take place in a mixture of Cantonese and English. The university has recently set up an English Enhancement Centre with the aim of improving the academic communication skills of undergraduates. Educational technology is playing a large part in this initiative with much use being made of video and interactive video and computer based materials in both classrooms teaching and self access centres. The aim being to increase interactivity and transform students from passive listeners into active participants.
We are late starters in this area, a long way behind the two polytechnics. The City Polytechnic, with the advantage of a newly built campus, wired for centralised computer and audiovisual delivery, a micro on every lecturer's desk and a planned ratio of one microcomputer to every four students, is making impressive use of the computer network for instructional delivery, assignment submission, marking and feedback, with the objective of increasing interactivity. Jonathan Marsh has described the strategies in detail in a recent paper for the Hong Kong AECT (Marsh, 1992).
Successful communication involves understanding the audience. Too few producers of these programs have asked the question "How will it play in Pretoria?" or Seoul, or Bangkok or Hong Kong... seeming more intent on designing their programs for the ego of the sponsor. Programs produced by university educational technology units, though lacking the technical sophistication of commercial products, are often more informative and successful.
For the overseas student already on campus, educational technology materials can be a valuable source of information and enlightenment as well as means to developing good study skills. Media Centres can assist by working closely with other professionals in ELICOS, Counselling and Study Skills centres, as well as with the students themselves (eg. through Overseas Students Associations); to produce programs, to make materials readily available and to come to know and respect the audience.
Marsh, J. (1992). Interactive Technology Based Instruction: Pragmatic Issues in Effective Authoring and Large Scale Delivery in Tertiary Education. Paper delivered at 1992 HKAECT Conference.
Universities and Polytechnic Grants Commission: Unofficial figures.
University of Hong Kong Counselling Centre (1992). Student Survey of 1991/2 Undergraduates.
|Author: Ian Hart is an educational technologist with 25 years experience in educational video production. His current research interest is in the use of video in language learning and he has produced programs for the teaching of Russian, French, Indonesian, ESL and, most recently, Chinese. Prior to taking up his current appointment as Director of the Centre for Media Resources at the University of Hong Kong, Ian was Head of the Centre for Media Studies at the University of Canberra. His address is: Centre for Media Resources, University of Hong Kong, Pokfulam Road, Hong Kong.
Please cite as: Hart, I. (1992). The view from "Clever City": Looking at Australian education through promotional videotapes. In J. G. Hedberg and J. Steele (eds), Educational Technology for the Clever Country: Selected papers from EdTech'92, 247-254. Canberra: AJET Publications. http://www.aset.org.au/confs/edtech92/hart.html