When hiring university graduates, few employers regard the academic subjects taken by applicants as their prime concern. They usually look more closely at candidates?general attitude to work, ability to cooperate within a team, and their overall communication skills. Realising that soft skills such as these are not taught in the classroom, the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology's enrichment programmes have been upgraded to help students develop these abilities through giving them exposure to campus life overseas and the world of work.
"Companies nowadays are looking for candidates with an international outlook and who can demonstrate teamwork, communication and leadership skills," says Professor Tam Kar Yan, associate dean of the university's School of Business and Management. "Students possessing these prerequisites are likely to be better paid in their first jobs."
The enrichment programmes include a student exchange scheme, which is probably the largest of its kind in Asia and is linked with 83 renowned universities around the world. Between 30 and 40 per cent of second-year undergraduates are given the opportunity to study overseas for six months. "Many students change noticeably as a result of the exchange scheme. They speak English more fluently, have a broader perspective and their communication skills are much better," notes Professor Tam.
An internship scheme allows students to work for leading corporations such as HSBC, Merrill Lynch and Morgan Stanley, where they gain experience of a real business environment. In addition, they are encouraged to do voluntary work and assume responsibilities in the community by serving others together with their peers.
Professor Tam does not share the view of some business executives that the absolute standard of graduates has fallen since the days when Hong Kong had only two universities. "At that time, local graduates were regarded as the cream of society. Now we have eight universities in Hong Kong, so while the standard of some students might be comparatively lower, the very top students are better than those of previous generations," he says.
He adds that it is an advantage for students to acquire good English language skills through primary and secondary levels, so that they are fluent before entering university. Besides that, students in Hong Kong should be less focused on examinations. "I hope primary and secondary schools can learn from the successful education system in countries like Norway, where students' English standard is very high. Students there take oral exams for composition, presenting their work verbally rather than in writing, even for mathematics. To achieve similar quality in Hong Kong, the curriculum may need to be revised," he explains.
Professor Tam says the university hopes the government will increase the quota for the intake of overseas students from the current 8 per cent to 20 per cent. This would help to increase the cultural and national diversity of the student body.
Meanwhile, the school's placement office is in the busiest period of the year for matching graduates with available jobs. With the improving economic sentiment, employment prospects in almost all business sectors are good and the top graduates can choose between seven or eight job offers. Those with experience gained from internships or study overseas are consistently in demand.