Success in university hinges on the first year

Regina Lau and Thelma Yim

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Whether a student succeeds in university, or not, is, to a large extent, determined by his first month on campus, according to Mr Joseph Chan , CityU's Acting Director of Student Development Services (SDS) at the First Year Experience Seminar, 11 October. If the first year is an important one, the first month of that year is certainly crucial, and ideal graduates don't just happen¡Xthey need to be nurtured.

The seminar took a close look at how CityU's first year undergrads are coping and the resources available to help them master their learning experience. About 130 staff and students, from CityU and other local institutions participated in the day-long event.

Surveys by CityU's Education Development Office (EDO) this year show that 75% of first year students cope well in their transition to university education; a sizeable minority, however, report problems such as finance, travelling time, study skills and social isolation. "This is the group of students we should do something about," EDO Head Dr David Mole attested at the seminar. "The socially active students, the majority, report more progress in skills development and generally find university life more satisfying." The surveys also reveal that an overwhelming 84.2% of the respondents are either satisfied, or very satisfied with the computer facilities, library, student services and catering service offered at CityU. About half are satisfied with the performance of teaching staff, in general in helping students to learn. Interest in programme, perceived ability to succeed at CityU, and public examinations results are found to be on the top of the list of reasons why students choose to study here, followed by career prospects, the reputation of CityU and advice from others.

Orientation as a seamless process

The student orientation programme has expanded and transformed substantially to help students thrive in the first year. "Orientation is more than rules and regulations, and curriculum requirements," Dr Ruth Yee , SDS Associate Director, explained. "It should prepare a student for maximum learning and development by proactive intervention in the critical first year."

The programme has developed from a one-day, social and instructional function into a year-long educational process. It has evolved into what Dr Yee calls "seamless orientation", an integrated process involving academic and support units, plus senior students. Intertwined with this ongoing process are a number of short-term programmes: orientation camp, student mentoring scheme, first year support centre, whole person development award scheme, learning to learn programme, etc., all designed to make the newcomers feel welcome and cared about.

Professor Edmond Ko , CityU's Vice-President (Undergraduate Education), reminded the audience to keep the changing expectations of university education in perspective. With a paradigm shift from elite to mass education, and from a local to a global scenario, job prospects for graduates are uncertain. Therefore, more than just preparing students for their first job upon graduation, "university education is about preparing graduates for lifelong employability on a competitive and sustainable basis", he said. The ideal CityU graduate is a qualified, competent professional and a proficient communicator with a high level of intellectual ability and self-management skills.

Professor Ko was particularly concerned about the survey finding that a sizeable minority of first year students are "inert" and do not participate in out-of-classroom ventures. He urged academic departments and programme leaders to play a more active role in reaching out to these students. "They may not perform badly in their academic studies, yet they do not benefit fully from university education," he pointed out.

Representatives from other local universities were also invited to share their insights and experience at the seminar. Professor Cheng Kai-ming , Senior Advisor to the Vice-Chancellor at the University of Hong Kong, was invited to talk about the changing landscape of higher education and how universities should prepare and transform. Mr Clement Shum, Dean of Students from Lingnan University, shared with the audience the Lingnan orientation experience.

If, as Diogenes has been quoted as saying, "Education is an ornament in prosperity and a refuge in adversity," there is no time like the present to ensure success at university.



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