Tuesday, 21 April 2015

Good Idea Gone Bad

Students going to China was a good intention, but making it mandatory wasn't
I believe that all young people should go to China to see what it's like there. The country is fast becoming a powerhouse to be reckoned with, not just economically, but politically and socially too.

That's why it's important to be there on the ground, to see it first hand, to witness the authority the government has over its people, and how the trickle down effect of wealth isn't really working and how people live day-to-day.

By living there for a period of time, then young people will have an idea of how the country works or doesn't work, and have a better understanding of the mindset of people there, so that when they become the next generation of adults, they will have a better idea of how to deal with China not only on a personal level, but in the political and economic arena too.

So the University of Hong Kong had good intentions when its pro-vice-chancellor and vice president, professor Ian Holliday announced on Friday at a student union dinner that by 2022, all undergraduates must spend some time on the mainland.

It was a way to ensure "everybody has the opportunity" of one learning experience on the mainland and one internationally. Apparently there would be two parts, a "Greater China" stream covering the mainland, and possibly Taiwan and Macau, and an international stream for the rest of the world. Activities would include classes, internships, field trips or professional training.

However, Holliday got into trouble when he warned, "If you don't agree with the policy, then please don't come to HKU."

What kind of threat is that? And making it mandatory for students by 2022 seems much too far off, but also forcing people to go is not the answer.

As a result, Holliday had to backtrack on his words. "I apologize unreservedly for the clumsy and inappropriate remarks," and promised students would be consulted first.

Seems like a bit too late for that. Didn't Holliday know that anything regarding the mainland in Hong Kong is an extremely sensitive issue? Or did he not get that memo?

A union poll on the day Holliday apologized showed 97 percent of undergraduates opposed any arbitrary requirement to go to a particular place to study.

Vice chancellor professor Peter Mathieson tried to tone down the controversy.

"Clearly, enrollment in any university includes an element of choice for applicants to know about HKU's policies and expectations so that they can decide whether it suits their needs or not," he said.

"These [developmental] opportunities may be anywhere in the world, but obviously in view of our geopolitical situation, mainland China will be one target area," Mathieson said. Such experiences would help students develop a "truly global perspective".

HKU may have had good intentions, but it didn't go down so well with the students. It's going to take a while for things to calm down.

Unfortunately this is bad timing because people really need to get to know and understand China beyond the headlines, which force knee-jerk reactions. Because the more we know about the mainland, the greater our chances in dealing with the giant more on our terms.

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