If Hong Kong’s academic institutions were people, the University of Hong Kong (HKU) would be mixed blood (half-English, half-Hong Kong).
It would be a member of a prominent family, probably living in a Pok Fu Lam mansion, reading Shakespeare and Adam Smith — and fashionable.
The Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK) would be someone from the local scholar class who lives in a large, idyllic house in Sha Tin.
The Hong Kong University of Science and Technology would be a techno-geek in white coat holed up in a lab in Sai Kung, fiddling with test tubes or electric wires.
And Hong Kong Polytechnic University (PolyU) would be your Average Joe, someone from the grassroots in Tuen Mun, Tai Wai or Yuen Long.
It has no pretensions to political elitism.
Here, job interview etiquette is more important than universal suffrage. Its “democracy wall” is more likely to be pasted over with dormitory allocation notices, food prices and canteen menus.
Political apathy is not a sin in PolyU, unlike in HKU and CUHK where students must take sides.
That explains why Hong Kong students and their peers from the mainland find it easier to mingle and connect in its less politically charged atmosphere.
The PolyU style is bland, perhaps because it’s mainly a provider of application-oriented training and research.
Its aim is to send graduates to the real world — clinics, hotels, architectural firms and the like — rather than grooming ivory tower scholars, officials or lawyers.
One proof of this is its course design.
You won’t lose sleep over your academic results. There’s no formal grading system and you don’t have to sacrifice your pastime to be in the top 10 percentile. With a 3.5 GPA, you will be on the dean’s list.
But don’t get me wrong. PolyU is a budding hub for teaching and research despite its brief history.
Quacquarelli Symonds ranks it sixth in the world’s top 50 universities under 50 and 116th overall out of 700 in its 2015 report.
PolyU graduates may not be Hong Kong’s crème de la crème but with their applied skills and pragmatism, they have no problem landing a job.
Also, PolyU undergraduates have possibly the best student hall.
All the dorms, each with its own bathroom, are in high-rises in Hung Hom and Ho Man Tin, with harbor views on higher floors.
Each floor has ample amenities including an open kitchen. All this without having to pay a cent more — PolyU hasn’t increased its fees in years.
One of the first things students are taught is how to deal with distractions.
Tsim Sha Tsui, with its myriad temptations, is right next door and the Hong Kong Coliseum, a hot spot for concert fans, is a stone’s throw away.
Don’t forget Hung Hom, which offers an ideal detour for strolls and quick lunches — even for running errands.
Accessibility adds to PolyU’s appeal. It is well served by public transport.
The Hung Hom MTR station and the cross-harbor tunnel are so close you can sense the New Territories or the Hong Kong island a few stations away.
You’re also within striking distance of mainland China on the intercity through train.
PolyU is no ivory tower. It’s as down-to-earth as it gets.
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