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University

Hong Kong Polytechnic University (PolyU) and Hong Kong University of Science and Technology (HKUST)

Originally posted on April 6, 2019 @ 10:13 am

Hong Kong Polytechnic University

PolyU viewed from the MTR station Hung Hom

On the morning of Thursday 28th March 2019, I visited the Hong Kong Polytechnic University. This university, opened on its current site in 1965 in its original carnation as the Hong Kong Technical College. It became a university in 1994 and is situated in the hustle and bustle of Hong Kong’s Kowloon district. Boasting an impressively housed Design school, as well as its own 5 star hotel, PolyU is an impressive university. Students benefit from two years guaranteed accommodation 10 minutes walk from campus. In these halls generally two or three students share one room. There is a Swimming pool and Sports Centre on site.

During my tour of the Hong Kong Universities it was the only one that organized time for me to visit three different departments in the space of the morning. Like the other universities I visited this is a campus university with students housed in halls of residence within walking distance of the main academic buildings. I was first taken to see the Department of Humanities, The Design School and The School of Hotel Management. Like other universities in Hong Kong, students apply to specific programs and admission decisions are made at the program level by professors teaching the courses that students apply to.

During my tour of the Humanities Department I was shown the work of their linguistics laboratory where research is focused on understanding the processing and development of language in the Human Brain. Personally it was really interesting to see how the study of language and biology interact and gave me some new insights to bring back to my classroom. The faculty delivering the courses in communication were keen to stress the relevance of their degrees. Many of their graduates go on to work as interpreters and communications specialists. Two thirds of court interpreters in Hong Kong, for example, graduate from their programs. Students get exposure to hands on visual and verbal translation and they aim to produce students who are trilingual in Cantonese, English and Mandarin. The Design school covers a whole suit of programs from photography and digital media, through to interior and environmental design. A tour round the school which also houses an exhibition space, give a good insight into all main areas of Design and is truly a world class facility. Finally the Hotel School is attached to Hong Kong’s 5* Hotel Icon which is owned in full by HK PolyU and offers the leading Hotel Management courses in Asia.

Hotel Icon and PolyU’s Hotel School

The Hong Kong University of Science and Technology

View from HKUST campus overlooking Clear Water Bay and student housing.

My final visit of the week was to HKUST. This is another campus university but unlike the others it is located in Clear Water Bay in the east of the city. It does not have an MTR line and is connected to the nearest station Hang Hau by a 10 minute taxi or bus ride. It’s lack of connectivity to the city can be definitely seen as a plus. Surrounded by beautiful green hills and with commanding views over the bay, the campus feels very much like you are out of the city. Living here students can be cloistered away in their own community but are able to dive into the city relatively easily for the day if they wish. HKUST has four schools: Science, Engineering, Business; and Social Sciences. The Interdisciplinary Programs office allows students to study courses from different schools should they wish. Once again students apply directly to programs for admission, although HKUST allows students to apply to a school if they are undecided on exactly what program they wish to take. In this way HKUST, offers a combination of specialization or flexibility of study, different routes that will appeal to different students. All students take a Common Core of 36 credits that allow them to  develop their Professional and general knowledge in other areas. HKUST also operates a undergraduate research opportunities program, UROP, which gives students access to international networking and conferences. HKUST stressed that they are results orientated in their applications and IBDP students should be looking to score 38+ points.

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University

The Chinese University of Hong Kong (CHUK) and The University of Hong Kong (HKU)

Originally posted on March 30, 2019 @ 8:12 am

The Chinese University of Hong Kong

CHUK as viewed from the MTR station “university”

On the morning of Wednesday 27th March 2019, I visited the Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK). With around 16000 undergraduate students and about the same post graduates, this is a large  campus university founded in 1963 and is located in the New Territories of Hong Kong. The setting is very much sub urban, and stepping off the dedicated MTR (Hong Kong’s metro) station “University” you find yourself pleasantly outside the pace bustle of the pulsing metropolis. The University is nested in a series of green hills with views of the sea.

Despite the name, the language of instruction for the majority of courses is English and degree programs last for 4 years in the main although there are some exceptions (Medicine and Education courses being two examples). Bilingualism is encouraged, and international students may be required to take courses in Mandarin or Cantonese but ability to speak either of these languages is not a requirement of entry. Instead applicants need to have a minimum of a C in GCSE English or, for IB students, be on target to score a 4 in either English A or English B. For most programs these are the minimum language requirements to be able to study here, although some programs may have slightly more rigorous requirements. As always check the program requirements. Students can select three programs on application and IB applicants will need at least 30 points and significantly more than this for some programs.

They claim that they use student performance data at the university to work out comparisons between applicants with different educational backgrounds. The university develops new programs regularly for example they have introduced AI this year. IBDP Student can get up to a year advanced standing although many opt to take less. Admission selection decisions are made by the program faculties and not centrally. CHUK runs summer programs for Yr12/Grade 11 students in their summer holidays. This is currently a 2 week residential program where students take 2 courses each with 15 hours of instructional time. Very interestingly, the university has a collegial system. The collegial system allows students from different programs to live together, and runs in similar lines to UK universities with a similar system. In these colleges students take some general education courses and have a range of social and sporting events that they can take part in from formal dining to teams sport competitions against other colleges. They can indicate preference for colleges after they have been accepted. It is the only university in Hong Kong with this structure. Non-local students are guaranteed residence for 3 out of 4 years and can apply for it in their 4th year. Housing is only 1500USD per year.

The University of Hong Kong (HKU)

HKU’s “main building”

In the afternoon of Wednesday 27th March I visited the campus of the University of Hong Kong or HKU for short. HKU is a campus university located in the heart of Hong Kong Island and is the oldest of the nine universities in Hong Kong. So old in fact that it’s imaginatively named “main building” is in fact listed and persevered from being demolished to allow the construction of yet another sky scraper. HKU is a campus university, again served by its own MTR station “HKU” but it is stuck right in the cut and thrust of a thriving modern metropolis and therefore has a very different feel to either CUHK or HKUST. It is a large research-based university with academic focused undergraduate programs. The University campus is spread out East to West facing the bay. Students apply directly to the programs that are of interest to them and the offers of admission are made by the program faculty. In an unusual move for a Hong Kong university, HKU has recently published its entrance criteria for its programs although they are keen to stress that the figures represent the grades attained by the lowest performing students, as measured by examination data, admitted to their programs. Interestingly students can take degrees at HKU combined with other universities in the UK, France and the US. Students on these courses have the ability to graduate with degrees awarded from both partner institutions.

Both these universities, considered by many to be the best universities in Hong Kong, offer very different living experiences for students. Both are well connected to the city via the MTR but CHUK is greener and possesses a more open sub-urban environment, with the possibility for students to get outdoors for hikes from its doorsteps. HKU being located in the heart of the city is surrounded and hemmed in by skyscrapers giving students easy access to the heart of the city.

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University

Moving on, handing over: 2

Originally posted on April 12, 2018 @ 9:00 am

This post continues from yesterday’s post.

Working with colleagues

For any guidance department to be successful it needs, like all good teachers and their departments, to not work in a silo.

Getting colleagues on side is hugely important. In a culturally diverse staff body, many colleagues bring very different sets of values which colour their view of guidance. It is essential that guidance counsellors work closely with teachers; by understanding the educational heritage and philosophy of colleagues we can best ensure that the team works together to support students supported by a common understanding and vision.

Specialist colleagues are involved either officially or unofficially with the administration of the guidance program and I make a point of sharing thanks for this support by highlighting the efforts of particular colleagues with the SLT.

The English teachers and teachers of other languages are well placed to offer support in writing techniques, although it is important that they understand the aim of the different types of writing that different university applications require.

Counsellors I have spoken with have sometimes said that they don’t like involving English teachers because they can give conflicting advice. I think that this is a mistake. The English teachers I know and have worked with in the past have much stronger skills than me when it comes to coaching students writing. With proper time for discussion, collaboration and planning any differences in opinion and outlook can be adjusted for and the team can work on the same page.

The development of writing skills is important but staff can be involved in helping to prep for interviews also. In actually delivering mock interviews I have relied on a variety of staff as I feel that the most beneficial effect is gained for students when they interview with someone that they don’t know. I have also used the drama teachers to coach students on body language.

The real challenge for the school here is getting these relationships formalised. This is a priority, as the teachers who give up their time to plan and deliver support to students need to recognised and compensated for this. It isn’t fair to simply expect them to take this on.

Another aspect of working with colleagues comes with getting them on-side to understand the procedures involved in making and supporting university applications.

All teachers support university applications by supplying written comments and predicted grades for the subjects they teach. The school needs a policy for making predicted grades which must be clearly articulated to and understood by teachers so that the team is predicting grades in the same way.  In the same way, teachers need to understand the timeline and process that their students are involved in. In an international school, students may be applying to many different university systems, each with their own nuances. It is helpful if teachers have some understanding of that. One of the most unhelpful things that a well-meaning teacher can do is to continually offer an extension to deadlines for students.

Teachers need to understand how their comments are used to help the counsellor construct a reference and to understand what makes these comments different to a report. Generally, they must be positive and evidence-based. It doesn’t escape my notice that teachers, often, could do with support from the English department in terms of structuring their writing (PEE/A; SEX; Claim, Warrant and Impact).

Finally, in some cases, teachers may be called upon to write full references. The processes for this and requirements for the writing need to be carefully explained and understood.

Finally working with colleagues, also includes organising the transcript production process and having some input into the production of the DP handbook and making sure that the information within it aligns with the guidance handbook.

Working with outside organisations

Ultimately the role of the guidance counsellor is about working with organisations outside of school: universities.

I once heard a Head tell a conference that that role of the guidance counsellor was 50% in school and 50% out of school.

Our work involves liaising with universities, of course, but this can take many forms.

Firstly university visits. These require planning within the school, to agree a suitable place and time that visits can be generally held. Currently, we try to avoid clashes with lessons and encourage universities to visit at lunch or after school.

If I had more time, I would love to allow these visits to include a tour, perhaps the observation of some teaching (this has gone down well in the past) as well as the delivery of the universities presentations. I feel that this goes a long way in building a relationship with that institution, and allows them to better understand our particular context.

I also make a point of reaching out to universities after I have met them at conferences after our students have applied to them, and after students receive an offer (or not). Again, this keeps the lines of communication open and helps to build more of a relationship with your partner on the other side of the desk at that institution.

In terms of non-university institutions, we are currently using BridgeU and UniFrog as platforms to help students do their research and plan their applications. I have been planning to write a comparison of the two all year, and I hope to get this published soon. It has been useful to get feedback from students regarding the two programs.

We also work with Inspiring Futures and use their Futurewise and Career Investigator programs to support our career guidance programs in grade 9 and 10.

To improve

What would improve this guidance program and help it meet the aims of formatively developing our students?

Well, a couple of things.

I think to start some of the skills, like CV writing, earlier, in grade 8 for example, would help students begin to think about what how they can maximise their final four years in school to really develop themselves. Once students are introduced to the concept of a CV and, perhaps, realise that they haven’t got that much on there, yet, they can start thinking about what they can do to get stuff on there. The caveat here is that is isn’t about getting stuff on the CV its training kids to think about what they learn, about themselves and the world, from the activities they do do.

I think also that relationship with colleagues who support the department; teachers who help with writing, for example, need to be formalised, recognised and given the space to commit their working time to this, otherwise, apart from the risk of overburdening already busy teachers, you are effectively running a program on good-will and favours which can’t last forever.

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University

Moving on, handing over: 1

Originally posted on April 11, 2018 @ 9:00 am

Making the decision to move on is not easy. Particularly when you have spent the last four years building a program from scratch. It has been a fascinating ride, and I have learned so much in the process, not just about guidance counselling, but also more generally about working with colleagues and about wider school aims and objectives. I still have a lot to learn and I could certainly still do more in my current post but at least there is a skeleton of a program. I leave it to others to add meat to the bones.

In this post and the next, I thought I would prepare my handover notes to a colleague who will be taking over my role when I move on to China. It’s a good opportunity to reflect on what I have learned in the last few years and to think through how things might be improved.

I have created the concept map below which I think neatly covers the different aspects of this diverse role and reflects how I have broken up the role in my mind as I have developed the program at my current school.

Download (PDF, 1.64MB)

Aims of School Guidance

School guidance programs should support the wider aims of the school’s mission and vision, of course. To this end they should be developed to maximise the formative development of the young people they serve. In practice, and in conjunction with other departments within a school, this means helping students to think about and plan for their futures as well as develop writing and conversation/interview skills among others. When implemented well they can help catalyse students into gaining more from their school life by becoming active members of the school community.

Working with students

The most obvious point of interaction for a guidance counsellor is working with the students in the school. I recognise that different schools have different ways of organising their programs, depending on their specific context but there are particular tasks that I believe schools should channel through their guidance counsellors.

In my context, I have developed a program that focusses on “career” education in grades 9 and 10 (Y10 & 11). In practice, this means that we focus on interventions for students that will expand their horizons in terms of the jobs that are available to them. For example, many students (if not all) have heard about doctors, and have some idea of what they may do professionally – normally they have all been to one. But many students are unaware of the other professional routes in healthcare like physiotherapy, radiography, biomedical research, nursing, paramedic science. The aim of our program in these early grades is to expand students knowledge about these topics.

The Future-You festival (FYF) acts as a focal point for this with other activities interspersed throughout the year as shown in the following table.

Grade 9Grade 10Grade 11Grade 12
Career Investigator (Delivered as part of the FYF)Futurewise Career Profile Futurewise if not completed in grade 10University Application support
Future-You festivalFuturewise Career Discussion & CV writing workshop (as part of FYF) Persuasive writing workshopsPersuasive writing workshops
Future-You festivalFuture-You festivalInterview skills training including body language
IBDP subject choice guidanceUniversity & Career researchFinancial Aid application support and post offer decision support
Individual meetingsIndividual meetingsIndividual meetings

This “career” education aims to engage students with research and thinking about their future. We hope that by doing this, students may be better informed when making their subject choices in grades 9 and 10, particularly with an understanding of how the subject choices for the Diploma impact on the options they have for further study.

Once students move into the Diploma program we aim to help them successfully research, apply and enter a university that it is a good fit for them.

In grade 11 we provide online tools to help students identify these options and this is supported by two whole grade workshops in term 1. From January we move to individual meetings (usually one every three weeks) supported by three whole grade workshops in term 2 and three in term 3. These workshops (add link), supported by the English department, focus on helping students develop solid persuasive writing skills that they can use in their personal statements or motivational letters.

Finally, in grade 12, we support students with their applications – it is surprising how long it takes a young person to fill one of these in! We continue with individual meetings and block out deadlines to help students manage the process. As part of the FYF we coach students on interview technique and body language, as well as give each student mock interviews to help them prepare for the requests that they get. Grade 12 reaches fever pitch around December as we push students to have everything prepared early, but students still need ongoing support and help with replying to offers and dealing with any potential fall out on results day.

Working with parents

Alongside working with students we strive to provide support to parents as well. This often comes in the shape of face to face meetings to discuss concerns or specific questions that families have. Questions can vary widely and depend, in the international context, on what the families own paradigm and passports are.

We also run presentations and information sessions for parents which we also normally open up to the wider public. These vary in content but we currently run one a term. This year in term 1 we held an introduction to Dutch HE following on from my tour of Dutch Universities. In term 2 I provided an information session on applying to a range of different university systems.

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University

Team culture: teachers and counsellors

Originally posted on April 4, 2018 @ 9:00 am

“I am applying to Bangor” the student said. “Oh, great! I applied there too!” says I, “It is an excellent school for Biological Sciences”.

As the school’s university counsellor I probably should have had a bit more of an idea that this student had decided to apply to this particular university, particularly considering this was rather late in the year – around April or May of Y13.

Follow up conversations made me aware that this student’s homeroom teacher had initially made the suggestion that this student applied to Bangor.

Let me get out in front of this. I am not trying to suggest in this post that teachers should not speak to their students about their university applications. I am not suggesting that teachers should not even offer advice to students and help them make sense of what can be a very confusing time of life, but teachers do need to think before they speak.

I have heard of schools where the guidance counsellor takes an aggressive, defensive approach in working with teachers. If you so much as whisper the word “university” to a student without their knowledge they may have words with you.

I have heard of teachers being reprimanded by the school counsellor for sharing a book list of subject specific reading with the Y12 and 13s and writing to them in an email that reading would be an excellent way to improve their university applications.

This wasn’t covert. The teacher wasn’t trying to go behind the counsellors back. They cc’ed the counsellor in, thinking they would be pleased that the teacher was trying to engage students to do things beyond what was merely required.

In my world then this is perfectly acceptable, as reading widely is an educationally excellent thing to encourage young people to do.

The teacher was called to the counselling office and made to apologise for that action.

This same colleague still gives me a cool reception when our paths do cross.

As a teacher, before I became a counsellor I wanted to encourage interested students to read my subject at university. I think this is natural. As someone who taught DP and A level and interacted with 17-18-year-olds pastorally, I was naturally curious as to where the students I met were applying, and what for.

It is frustrating when this information is never shared. When Teachers are never told when students have applied, or have interviews or get offers of admission. “Why do they need to know?” Is usually the question posed when this is raised.

Teachers do need to get with the school’s program and get behind the counselling team. Speak to the counselling department if they have ideas about individual students or groups of students and feel that you have the expertise to share. Global university admissions is an ever-changing landscape and teachers are not always up to speed. Also, teachers may not take into account other cultural factors like international diversity, when recommending institutions, which may hugely impact a students future happiness.

I would also submit, from experience, that teachers are not natural counsellors. I have written about this tension between teaching and counselling elsewhere and won’t bring it in here again. But teachers don’t necessarily know how to pose questions to draw out students thinking on such subjective matters about a students future, and they also may not have the full picture, painted by the families worldview.

Just like the teacher that ignores a school’s behaviour policy and does their own thing in their classroom, undermining their colleague who sticks to the behaviour policy, to the detriment of the whole team and school culture, the teacher that doesn’t engage with the counseling team to communicate ideas and discussion points about students, just serves to undermine the counseling department. This can lead to damaged reputations and undermining of the school’s reputation.

But it works both ways. Counsellors need to make teachers feel included. They need to seek students consent first to share the information (internally) about where students are applying and where they have been successful. This information serves to catalyse the team on the celebration and helps to build ongoing fruitful relationships between students and the staff that work with them. Why do teachers need to know? Because teachers care, becuase teachers invest their time, more than anyone, to work on behalf of students, because teachers know just when to put in the right word of encouragement, just when a student might need it.

It allows a whole team celebration of the students achievement and contributes to building a strong team culture amongst the staff. So counsellors and teachers: work together!

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