Going to University – West vs East

I had my graduation! It’s officially over now! I’m no longer a student! …I’m really going to miss it… 😦 University changed me for the better, not because of my course, but because of the experiences of moving away, living by myself and meeting new people.

Education is clearly rather different in the West and the East. Focusing on Hong Kong and the UK, the pressure in Hong Kong to do well is far greater than in the UK. Children do many more exams and from an earlier age. According to my boyfriend, children are ranked in their classes from best to worst (I couldn’t disagree with this more) and some primary schools want to see how clever the child is before they let them attend.

I want to talk about the ideas and attitudes that British and Hong Kong people have when going to any university in general, but maybe other countries will fit into what I am saying. I have no experience of the education system in Hong Kong. I can only talk about what friends have told me.

Here are 3 stories from my boyfriend (Hong Kong born but lives in the UK), myself (lived in the UK all my life) and my friend (Moved from Hong Kong a few months ago to attend university in the UK) about the decisions when it comes to the last part of education; university.

Story 1


My boyfriend was living in the UK when it was time to choose a university, and he applied to the 2 in his home town. His parents didn’t go with him to open days or look at the universities. All they did was tell him which course he was allowed to do, not considering the fact he may not enjoy it, not want to do it as a career and most of all, he may be quite bad at it! He wanted to study Business or ICT. They chose for him Accounting and refused to sign guarantor papers for the fees and his rent unless he did what they said. My boyfriend has told me it is because they thought it “sounded better”. He had some huge arguments with his parents about moving into halls of residence. They didn’t want him to go because they lived a bus ride from the university he got into. Money saving was more important than the experiences you can gain from university. I admit for many people there is nothing they can do but save money. With the rising costs of university, people aren’t being able to leave home. But my boyfriend had the money to do it and he wanted to do it.

Story 2

union-jackMy parents expected me to go to university like they did, and that was fine because I expected myself to go too. It just felt like something you do, in the same way you progress through school. I always knew what course I wanted to take, a subject I loved, and my parents were more than happy for me to take whatever I wanted. They took days off work and drove me to various universities all over the country. They helped me decide on the pros and cons of each university, the city or town it was in, the location and the course. They gave me advice, but not once did they tell me where they wanted me to go. They didn’t want to influence that decision because it was mine to make, even though I’m hopeless at decision making! I think I picked the university they thought was the best for me anyway. They also supported me financially by paying for my fees, so that I would only have to cover rent and food and I wouldn’t have to take out a loan. I know I’m lucky, because a lot of parents couldn’t afford to shell out £3,000 a year.

Story 3


My good friend recently moved from Hong Kong to the UK. She really wanted to move here and is currently studying at university. However, she had also applied for a course at a Hong Kong University. While she didn’t want to stay in HK, she was convinced that the course in would mean better job prospects because it was a slightly more highly regarded university. While this may be true in Hong Kong (I don’t know for sure), in the UK this isn’t such a big issue. Oxbridge may initially look appealing to employers, a 1st degree at a middle of the range uni is far better than a 3rd at Oxford, and probably easier to achieve. She was then extremely upset when she didn’t get into the Hong Kong university, or her first choice of course (this is understandable) and is planning on doing this degree, then applying for a different degree once she has finished, then doing further higher education courses afterwards. Now she is here in the UK, I think she has lightened up a bit, but she still seems desperate to be better than everyone else.

In my opinion…

…of course you want to get a good degree, you don’t want to waste all the money spent to come away with nothing to show for it, and you want to get a good job eventually, but university is so much more than working. It’s about learning to be independent, buying your own food, cleaning for yourself, socialising with new and different people, managing your own time and money, experiencing a new place, discovering yourself, and most of all having fun! You will have a life time of working ahead of you. You might as well have some fun while you can. University should be the best 3 years of your life.

What are your thoughts? What do you think is the most important reason for going to university? 

21 thoughts on “Going to University – West vs East

  1. it reminded me how when I stayed in HK during summer time children were going to summer school, in bookstores moms bought their children some math books to practice. it’s true they rank you – you need to be good in general to later take ‘art path’ – you know language, art, history stuff or ‘science path’ – math, chemistry etc. my husband was extremely good from science path but he sucked in Chinese and still in age of 27, having 2 degrees and american engineering license he still draws a cat as big as a tree. so he couldn’t go to ‘science path’ for high school, they wanted to put him in the things he is so bad with lol that’s why he later moved to study in Australia and USA – HK has too little schools so everyone is fighting for a place in a good one, now they even say that if you’re bad your parents will send you to study abroad, haha. really, many people don’t like education system in HK, but they have also highest average IQ per person.

      • he told me in schools there they always assume you did thing on 100% so with your score you can only go down with any mistake, you cannot improve yourself, haha. Now there’s fighting for places in kindergardens, I don’t know how HK can handle it – beside children of 7 mln people living there they need to find place for anchor babies

      • Being child geniuses doesn’t make them streetwise though…. or socially adaptable (EQ as the scientists call it)…. seems to be a big issue of people who come here from the Far East.

        Even those who were born here but from an Oriental background have problems because their parents do not understand how things work here from a social perspective.

      • I thought my social skills were bad…then I met my boyfriend! I think uni in the UK introduces you to real life because you have to do it completely by yourself but when it’s so serious like in Asia, they must miss that out. They’re still being treated a bit like children until they’re thrown into the real world with less idea of how to look after themselves.

  2. I have to disagree with a few points, ANY degree in Oxbridge, especially in the sciences, is worth a lot more than even a first from a Russell group uni – employers just flock to them. The premise being, if can get a place after the vigorous application process, and can cope with the demands for 3 years, you’re more than better than the rest.

    Also – and I found this out only after leaving school – schools DO grade the pupils like some sort of table, and there is plenty of talk of how many schools (especially faith ones, and those high up in the school league tables who don’t want their scores to suffer) look at a child’s results before (if) accepting them. Of course the grading is more subtle and hidden than in HK and the East, where I’ve heard the teachers aren’t ashamed to tell everyone where they “rank” compared to each other… but you’re kidding if you don’t think every school doesn’t do it to some degree. Time allocation, who gets what in work experience, predicted grades, preference for career advice, references – they all are influenced by where you are in school, even in Britain.

    • I have to disagree back. It’s very rare a company would employ someone with a 3rd over someone with a 1st just because they went to Oxford or Cambridge. They would be pretty stupid to do so. A 1st is better than a 3rd no matter how you look at it and a company would essentially be employing the worst person.

      Here is a quote from a John Lewis graduate employer, for their graduate recruitment scheme, “a candidate with a 2.1 from Oxford University would have no advantage over someone with a 2.1 degree from Reading.” I find this surprising, because I would assume the same degree from Oxford is more appealing…but it seems they say it doesn’t. Often Oxbridge students have a lot more on their CVs anyway which makes them more appealing to hire, it’s not the grade that does it.

      I am aware they do grade pupils here but it’s not the same way. I was told I was in the “Gifted and Talented” list at school a few times (most pointless thing ever) and obviously we were in classes depending on how clever you are, but you were never pitted against each other and specifically told you are cleverer or stupider than certain people. It must be so upsetting and confidence shattering for those Hong Kong kids at the age of 6 or 7 to see themselves as the most stupid person in the class. 😦

  3. All this education rush in Asian countries is terrifying. Also this IQ ranking is pretty weird, look at the PISA study for example. How come Finland is ranked 3rd there, with average low IQ? In Finland students never get more than about 30min homework a day, all students, no matter what social standing how their competences are educated in the same school and classes till grade 9 or so. After that they can chose if they want high school and further studies.

    My wife for example is much better in math than me, but everything else is a mess. She can’t point out countries on a map, no idea about biology, sports, history (except some major stuff from China) etc. Same applies to nearly all Chinese I know here in Europe who graduated from China.

    • My friend from Hong Kong told me about the subjects she studied at college before going to uni and they just seemed a bit pointless. They were things like science, maths, Chinese history…all fine to learn if that’s your thing, but they’re missing out on some things that could be more important in the real world…and she didn’t seem to get the choice of what to study. Luckily she is very into science but I would have struggled…

      She sent me a list of the results of the whole of Hong Kong…only 250 people took music, 800 took design, 270 took food, 800 took PE…compared with 18,000 that took Biology or Chemistry. Not everyone needs to be a scientist to be successful!

      I’ve always thought, you don’t have to be academically smart to be clever in the real world.

    • Has it occurred to you, it’s the “Chinese you know” rather than just the Chinese?

      Also, I don’t like this snobbish attitude of “oh she studied the sciences, all just a bit pointless”. STEM subjects are most definitely not pointless, the world revolves around them. Maybe this is just a counter from an arts and social sciences perspective – to you, STEM is alien and therefore not relevant in the real world – much like many STEM students are snobbish about “mickey mouse” degrees.

      What is definite is that this attitude, from both sides, is harming the country as a whole.That one cannot see the others’ values is quite sad, widening the divide between the two. At uni, the STEM students (“geeks”) never socialised with the arts students (“hippies and layabouts”) and vice versa. If we are that polarised, imagine how that plays out in life…. contributions from one area won’t be fully recognised by the other, because “it’s not important”.

      • If you actually read what I said, you would see that I wrote those subjects are pointless if it’s not your thing. For example, if you aren’t good at science, it’s pointless being forced to study them when you could be studying something you are really passionate about and actually good at. Science is not “alien” to me. I was good at them, I just wasn’t interested. I’m not happy at all that you have called me snobbish and taken my words completely out of context. It’s like you are looking for an argument all the time.

        I would appreciate it if you would stop forcing your views on people in the comments on my blog posts. You’ve already argued with someone on one of the posts because they disagreed with you and called them stupid a number of times. I have nothing wrong with discussion but you’re being rude.

      • Thank you very much, but I am myself what you call a STEM student. My posting was pointing out that the focus is often too narrow, that the children are not getting any chance to broaden their view and hence advance further with those “side” skills. I do not go on about any kind of form deviding between them, I was talking about how the family pushes them into one certain form, whether or not they like. Sure there are exceptions everywhere but still this is the majority, accept it or not.

      • Hey AMWFCouple, my comment was directed to Anonymous. Used the auto reply function and didn’t see your comment in between. Just in case.. (bit tired here so I get lil confused 🙂 )

  4. To be specific…..

    “They were things like science, maths, Chinese history…all fine to learn if that’s your thing, but they’re missing out on some things that could be more important in the real world…”

    So what would you say are things that are more important in the real world? English Literature? Drama? History? Psychology? Fine Arts?

    • Also it occurred to me – do you actually look DOWN on people who study the sciences, maths? As if they have missed out on life? There is such a thing as too much work and not enough fun time, but that applies to all subjects.

      But seeing people as “incomplete” because they didn’t take subjects that you deem useful to life, that’s bad.

      • Where are you getting this from? The entire point is that they get NO CHOICE and are FORCED to study these subjects.

        I studied maths at college and I was damn good at it, so please stop making stupid assumptions.

    • Business Studies, Law, Economics, Design, IT, engineering …real world skills.

      Because learning about sedimentary rocks and the cosine rule is really going to help everyone a lot more than learning how a business works or how to use a computer…

  5. My mum’s friend forced her 3 kids to study law (both sons) and economics (daughter). My parents let me and my siblings study what we want: Beauty Therapy/Cosmetics Science (me), Fashion Design (sister), Sport & Nutrition (brother). I am sure my mum’s friend look down on us for studying ‘dumb’ subjects but from what I can see, my siblings and I have been happy the whole way with the support of my parents and their more “Western” approach. For my mum’s friend: one son has gone into banking for a short time and is not studying again. The other son severely lacks social skills but is working in Law (not sure what) but dreams of being a writer. The daughter is in HK working in retail. In general, they seem to be very much separate rather than a close family. Maybe they are all happy too. But in my opinion, my family are slightly different to what I have seen with other HK families that live in the UK (definitely different approach to HK families IN HK!). They make suggestions but at the end of the day… we make our own decisions and mistakes. HK families & lifestyle do fascinate me! 🙂

    • I am very close to my family whereas my boyfriend isn’t so much to his. I think it depends on whether the parents act like friends to their children or act as though they “own” them. I think too much control pushes people away.

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