Is The Student Union Internationally Inclusive?

March 21, 2017 / by / 0 Comment

Representation of a student’s voice in their tertiary institution is important because changes implemented by the university directly affects your student life. As an international student in a university where the local language and culture is drastically different from yours, it can be difficult to have your voice heard. This is where the student union is supposed to step in. The University of Hong Kong’s Student Union(HKUSU) has been established since 1912 and aims to protect the rights of all the students in the university. On its website, its core aims are to represent the student body, promote their welfare, and protect their rights. Although the student union does its best to fulfill all these aims, what have they done to include non-local students? Ed Wong Ching Tak, HKU’s Student Union President acknowledges the fact that there is a distance between the Union and the non-local students. However, the Union has been trying to engage non-local students. “For instance, we organized the Buddy Programme in the past, but it is a small-scale activity,” says Wong. “So I’m afraid we didn’t reach a lot of non-local students.”

According to HKU, there are 9288 international students (including mainland students) currently pursuing their studies at the university, making up approximately 30% of the student population. Given that figure, do the international students feel that they are adequately represented by the student union? According to Tan Yu Lynn, a third-year Singaporean student, she is unaware of the roles of the student union. “I don’t think they have done anything for the non-local students, I only know I have to pay the fee every month,” says Tan. Her sentiments are echoed by other international students who only know that they have to pay the student union fees without actually knowing what benefits they get from being a member. To this, Wong says that there are many benefits for non-local students to be part of the Union as their activities are open to both local and non-local students. For example, non-local students can join inter-hall competitions and get involved in hall activities. He stresses, “We are not an exclusive Union, so benefits enjoyed by local students can be enjoyed by non-local students as well.”

However, is it fair to entirely blame the student union for the lack of non-local involvement? Perhaps it is not so much the organization, but the culture surrounding student committees in HKU, of which a majority are local-centric. Is it thus fair to point the finger at a predominantly local student union, as it is simply not their fault that they do not understand the plights of an international student? But Wong says that this is a flawed statement to being with, by comparing it to Hong Kong. Hong Kong is an international city despite never having had a non-local chief executive and non-local officials, he says.”We would be happy to learn more about the opinions of non-local students, and it would be quite unfair to say the Union does not understand the needs of the non-local students at all.” He cites an example where the union has met the Muslim Students’ Association, HKUSU and learned the problem of the shortage of prayer rooms in the University.

The current union is vowing to take more steps such as “a hiking tour to Dragon’s Back, a sightseeing tour to a racecourse and a cultural tour to the historical Wah Fu Estate” and these are definitely promising initiatives. But perhaps, international students can also be doing more to increase their representation by getting more involved with union activities, voting during the general election, and attending campaign meetings. However, with the campaigns being conducted in Cantonese-despite Chinese and English being both the official language of the Union it can alienate the international students that do not understand Cantonese. “Students can come to ask questions in English during our campaigns,” says Wong. “In fact, we would also provide English versions of our statements and declarations on our Facebook page.” But as Tan points out, “it is not enough for them just to post bilingual statements on Facebook.” The Union might not mean to exclude non-local students with the use of Cantonese but it is important to acknowledge that non-local might be less willing to partake in activities conducted in a foreign language. Thus, for the successful inclusion of non-local students in the campus, both sides have to work together to create that change. It might not happen overnight or even in a year, but as long as steps are actively taken to improve this situation, the university is on the right track.


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