United World College: Special institution for the lucky few

Principal Arnett Edwards with students who come from 80 nations

Only the luckiest teenagers get into United World College at Wu Kai Sha. Principal Arnett Edwards will say it is not about luck. He will insist admittance to the very special school depends on merit and potential. But each year the school takes in only about 50 Hong Kong youngsters.

The college occupying eight hectares of wooded parkland overlooking Tolo Harbour is a very special institution, indeed:

  • Eighty different nationalities study there, all 16 to 18 year olds. They attend for just two years.
  • A total of 256 live on campus, four sharing a room: Two from Hong Kong usually and two from overseas.
  • Teachers, who also live there, form tutor groups in which they take a paternal role.
  • Education is learning by doing with an emphasis on outdoor adventure.
  • The college sets out to promote peace and understanding: Hence the policy of having at least 80 nationalities in one school.

In Hong Kong it is known as the Li Po Chun United World College, one of 16 around the world.  The movement was founded by Kurt Hahn, who some might describe as a sort of German Lord Baden-Powell. Hahn also founded Outward Bound, the Duke of Edinburgh Award and Gordonstoun School.  UWC, the copyline goes, “makes education a force to unite people, nations and colleges”. These are not just words: For example, UWC hosts a Japan-China conference to encourage understanding between the two nations. The mixing of nationalities in the school is deliberate policy: Overseas youngsters outnumber the locals. The college reaches out to ethnic minorities in Hong Kong with school support programmes.

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Hidden away in an eight-hectare wooded parkland campus near Wu Kai Sha, students and teachers live in

Principal Arnett said no billionaire can elbow his kid’s way into the school. Students are chosen on scholastic merit, attitude and potential. They go through interviews and are set challenges, Outward Bound-style. Those with leadership potential emerge.Youngsters sent to the Wu Kai Sha school from overseas are picked by national committees in 140 countries. Similarly kids from Hong Kong can be selected to go to one of the 15 colleges abroad.  How many make it: Only 16 or 17 a year.

All youngsters are on full or partial scholarships. Means testing decides the scale of support. Arnett said the college operates on a budget of about $60 million a year and it’s a struggle to generate funds to support the scholarships and the overheads. UWC is mostly dependent on donations from charitable foundations and companies.

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