Continuing with my education post, I wanted to address another facet of the issue. You have a plethora of different lists of rankings. Some of the well-known are the QS, the Times, and the US News lists. Some are more entertaining such as the one published by Luminosity using less traditional lines-of-thought. The same group of schools seem to top every list. What makes them more ‘prestigious’? What makes the students great? What exactly do these schools offer? What makes them different?

I have attended ‘prestigious’ technical universities across three continents now; MIT maintains a top spot in both the United States and the world; HKUST is highly regarded in Asia; and EPFL in Europe. One could say - or as I overheard - that they are the MIT of their respective continents, yet they each offer an unique model of education and research that it may even be unfair to compare. As perhaps the only student who has such a perspective, I want to share my thoughts and experiences.

I wrote this post not to belittle the universities that are HKUST and EPFL, but to say in which it can improve. On the contrary, there are aspects of MIT that need reexamination too. While HKUST tries to imitate it, it fails to capture the essence of what makes MIT a venerated university.

MIT teaches its students how to think, but HKUST teaches its students how to copy. It is well known among the HKUST students the existence of course bibles - a collection of past exams and homework solutions. However, it isn’t simply past exams that the locals have access to, but the exam they are about to take. The questions that the professors ask are identical from year to year. It creates a culture of cheating.

MIT attracts top professors with its prestige, the same way it attracts top students. EPFL has great professors, some of which even came from MIT, for personal reasons or others. HKUST attracts well-established professors with salaries they cannot turn down. It is easy to buy a professor. It instantly boosts the ranking, but it is short-lived.

MIT is welcoming and open. I can walk into any empty classroom and work (or watch a movie on the projector). HKUST locks all of the classrooms. At any time, students are welcome to approach professors and teaching assistants for help. I personally have had TA’s stay at office hours twice as long as they intended. At EPFL, the students ask questions in the breaks between the hours. At HKUST, the professors did not seem open to questions.

What aspects are lacking at MIT? It could benefit from more food options on the campus itself, especially since busy students can forget something as essential as eating from time to time. HKUST and EPFL both had a variety of cafeterias that fit the student budget. While MIT is sometimes known for it’s hands-on approach to education, that is not necessarily true in all majors. Each major has 2 required labs, covering only 2 out of 8 semesters. EPFL has a rigid scheduling system, so that in the TP (labs), students of a specific year and major can apply their knowledge from most theoretical classes they are taking that semester. This continuous lab allows for a better integration of theory and practice.

I truly wish that there could be more institutes like MIT. I’ve never been as proud as I am now to be a called an MIT student.

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