Choosing a university: crossroads, grocery shopping, and South Africa
Although the fact we have the power to significantly determine the trajectory of our lives from an early age can appeal to some people, the idea of straying from a leisurely path that we have paced along carefully throughout our younger years for greater pursuits can seem, to others, not so great. The notion of intimidating milestone crossroads applies to many aspects of life, but the one I’m talking about in particular is one 80% of Hong Kong students are privileged enough to face: choosing a university (hkgov, 2016).
As of late, I’ve had the pleasure of browsing countless lists of higher education institutions like an over-extended grocery list, doing so whilst listening to my higher education advisor speak, unabating, of how ‘exciting’ such an opportunity is. And it is exciting. The idea that we can explore ourselves in a new, stimulating environment is nothing but attractive, and the guidance we are provided with is superb. We have advisory aid we can reach at virtually any moment, and any queries or concerns are addressed accordingly. The process and transition into higher education is smooth, and exceptionally tailored to fit our needs.
Hong Kong is a city that places heavy emphasis on university studies with its incredibly competitive work environment, and has a relatively comprehensive infrastructure for our adjustment into tertiary education. Though the same case would not have applied a few decades ago, where in 1981 the percentage of the population with a university degree education was 2.6%, the fact it now stands at a considerably loftier 16.0% is testament to the strides this country has made in its higher education system. (Wong, 2015) In a world where a university education is no longer seen as an extra, but is now seen as essential in a business world that positively correlates a degree with working ability, this is all the more important.
However, not every country is like Hong Kong or Britain, two countries well-renowned for their prestigious university institutions, with systems so adequately fashioned to pair pursuing teenage dreams with a university education. As of 2019, only 7% of South Africans aged 25-64 had completed tertiary education, compared to the UK’s 42% and the US’s 44%(UNESCO). Though the comparison may seem perverse, pitting a third world country notorious for corruption and a social system ‘characterised by crumbling infrastructure’ and ‘relatively poor educational outcomes’ (Amnesty, 2020) against nations known for world class teaching and education cultures so incredibly thorough, the message is that countries like ours and the people that inhabit them are… fortunate. Our students are nurtured from a young age, part of a system that leads to the moment where they have the freedom to go to a secluded university in an Italian city, or a bustling environment in Oxford.
Though the transition into higher education in Hong Kong differs from other nations in its frightening level of importance, the fact is that we should appreciate the situation we, as students, find ourselves in, regardless of how intimidating the final choice may be. The choice and subsequent journey is a precious opportunity that opens ourselves to new ones, and we should be grateful many of us have been guided from such a young age, moulded into teenagers able and adept to make this life-changing decision.