Hong Kong students don't have dreams - they have targets. That's the verdict of City University professor Alex Tham Koy-siong. And he should know, as he's also the university's senior coordinator for admissions at the Office of the Provost.
"I interview a lot of applicants and I find that if I ask them what their dreams are or why they're applying for the program, they say: 'I like your program' or 'I think it's good' but nothing else," he said.
Twelve years of interviews and one- to-one meals with students have led him to the conclusion that Hong Kong students are not dreamers: "They are more practical." They have only one goal - to get to university - and they work tirelessly toward it. "They are well- trained for exams and know all the model answers."
The problem comes after admission.
With their main goal achieved, they suddenly lose direction. Tham said: "They don't have any more dreams. They lose their motivation and don't want to work hard. They want to relax, do part-time jobs, spend time with their boyfriend or girlfriend ..."
He calls this the Year One syndrome. "Unlike in secondary school, there is less structure and discipline in university. The students know they won't be punished if they don't go to class."
Tham is especially worried about this lack of direction given the new 334 curriculum. Previously, students could drift until Form Seven before deciding what they would do. But under the new curriculum, they enter university a year earlier - so they should have some idea of what they want their future to look like by the time they put in their university applications.
To help his students, the marketing professor has come up with an acronym: BASIC.
"I always tell my students to go back to basics so I thought BASIC is a good word. It gives them a framework to think and start their information search."
He breaks it down to:
Battle: Find something you will fight for. Read biographies or attend talks by people who are successful in their field to help you decide what subject you have a passion for.
Ability: Ask yourself if you have the ability to achieve that dream. Are you good enough to stand out in that field? For example, if you want to be an accountant, are you good at mathematics?
Shape: Does your dream fit your image? Going into sales can make you lots of money but do you see yourself being a salesman?
Interest: To get picked for your dream job, you need to create a success story for your interviewers. Take part in competitions to show you have been interested in the subject all through your campus days.
Chances: Check out the competition. Can you perform better than those in your chosen field? Can you deliver? "I always tell my students: 'Luck will be ready only for people who are ready for it,'" Tham said.
Tham has seen many success stories. "In the past several years, I've had alumni achieving good jobs. One got his first job as a management associate in HSBC. Some became vice presidents of listed companies within three years of joining."
Having a dream early on helps. "If you know your dream by Year One, you have time to lay down a concrete foundation and go ahead with full energy. This puts you ahead of other students with no direction."