MAKING THE TRANSITION TO ENGLISH-MEDIUM HIGHER EDUCATION: A HONG KONG PERSPECTIVE
The Hong Kong Polytechnic University (HONG KONG)
The academic year 2012-13 marked the beginning of a new era in Hong Kong higher education as it witnessed the first phase in the transition from a 3-year to a 4-year undergraduate curriculum. The academic structure therefore shifted from a 7-year secondary school system culminating in a narrowly focused sixth form curriculum (years 12-13) followed by an even more specialised university programme to a 6-year system culminating in a broadly based senior-secondary curriculum (years 10-12) followed by an initially less specialised university programme. The new generation of students in Hong Kong are therefore required to make the transition to university a year earlier than before and with possibly more limited academic knowledge, experience and skills than graduates of the traditional British-based education system. This cohort of students also includes a significant proportion of graduates from Chinese-medium schools, who therefore not only face the challenge of adjusting to the demands of university studies, but also – unlike their counterparts from the city’s English-medium schools – experience the difficulty of adapting to teaching and learning in English.
Research into the school-university transition indicates that the first year is a crucial stage in the process of socialisation into the undergraduate role and a sensitive touchstone for the quality of the entire student experience. This underlines the importance of ensuring that the new generation of mainly Cantonese-speaking students make a smooth transition to English-medium university studies. It is against this backdrop that the study reported in this paper was designed. The study seeks to identify and understand the language-related challenges the first cohort of 4-year students experience when making the transition to English-medium university studies and, on the basis of this understanding, to propose practical measures to facilitate this process. This paper presents findings from the first phase of the investigation. These findings are derived from semi-structured interviews with 40 students conducted towards the end of their first term at university and a campus-wide questionnaire survey completed by 1,181 students at around the same time. The findings indicate that their principal sources of difficulty lie in comprehending and using specialist vocabulary, understanding their lecturers’ requirements, achieving an appropriate academic writing style and following lectures.
The work described in this paper was wholly supported by a grant from the Research Grants Council of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region, China (Project No. PolyU 5424/12H).