DSE and university madness: it is time for a more holistic and flexible admissions process

DSE and university madness: it is time for a more holistic and flexible admissions process

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Students sit in for the HKDSEs.
Photo: SCMP Pictures

Families in Hong Kong were in a frenzied state following the release of the HKDSE results and university offers. There are success stories that deserve to be told, but it is important to recognise that many others are left disappointed, unable to enter the course of their choice because they didn’t get high enough grades.

Local universities give little sympathy to those who miss the mark, even by one or two grades. It might be true that this is simply the natural result of the scarcity of higher education places, but I believe a more holistic approach should be taken in university acceptance.

This is particularly the case with the DSE, as it is still relatively new. Established exams, such as the IB and the A-level, have specific syllabus statements that make it clear what students have to revise for. In addition, the wealth of past papers and model answers allow students to understand exactly what examiners are seeking. But with the curriculum constantly changing, the specific demands of the DSE are still hazy.

It may be possible that the students who achieve different grades are equally capable in the same subject. A perfect example here is Young Post editor Susan Ramsay, who received a three in the liberal studies DSE. Is it a good reflection of educational achievement?


Blog: YP editor takes the HKDSEs


If universities deny students places when they miss the mark by the slightest of margins, it places the wrong emphasis on what is desired in a university student, looking solely at achievement rather than potential or improvement. A very different system is seen in the US, where applications are often judged in the context of their background. Applicants from underprivileged backgrounds and extenuating circumstances who have shown significant improvement are seen as “high potential,” even if they don’t perform as well on standardised tests as students from affluent backgrounds.

The unpredictable nature of the DSE, combined with the somewhat cold process of Hong Kong university admissions, affects not only individuals but also society. More and more students are seeking other routes to higher education. In particular, US universities, which give unconditional offers, are more and more tempting for local students. This could potentially lead to a brain drain, some of our best and brightest, afraid of the precarious nature of the DSE, will look for alternatives.

When I hear horror stories about missing local university conditional offers, I am relieved I can avoid the dreaded DSE and the cold university admissions process in Hong Kong. But for those who are unable to avoid the current DSE system, it is imperative that universities give them a fair chance by making the admissions process more flexible and holistic.

This article appeared in the Young Post print edition as
Look beyond the DSE results

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