Wedding anniversary gift gets top marks

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 24 December, 2006, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 24 December, 2006, 12:00am

Octogenarians Henry Hu Hung-lick and Chung Chi-yung celebrated their 61st wedding anniversary on November 12.

A month later, they received the best gift, one they had waited 35 years for - the educational institution they had founded and nurtured since 1971, Shue Yan College, was given university status.

'I feel happy and also for my students. This is a title that recognises their qualifications and they deserve it. It should have come earlier. But it's better late than never,' Dr Hu said.

Secretary for Education and Manpower Arthur Li Kwok-cheung made the announcement about the upgrading after an Executive Council meeting last Tuesday.

'I am pleased that Shue Yan College has been recognised and is to be renamed Hong Kong Shue Yan University,' he said.

The upgrading came after an assessment by the Council for Academic Accreditation in May found the liberal arts college met standards expected of a university. Since 2001, the council has validated 10 qualification programmes run by Shue Yan, which has 3,200 students.

The story of Shue Yan can be traced back to 1944 when the couple first met. Their marriage was to give birth to Hong Kong's first private college. Students say: 'They are not just the founders of Shue Yan. They are the mother and father of Shue Yan. They are the mother and father of every student at Shue Yan.'

Both aged 86, Dr Hu and Dr Chung first met on the mainland during a government training programme which came after a national examination for officials in early 1944.

'I came first in the category of diplomacy, while Dr Chung came first in the judiciary group. We fell in love during training and got married on November 12, 1945,' Dr Hu said.

Their determination to strive for excellence dates back to their younger days. Dr Hu beat 30,000 candidates to come first in an entrance examination for junior secondary school. He was also one of the top 10 barristers in Hong Kong in the 1950s and was awarded an OBE before becoming a legislator. His wife graduated as a law student with the best academic results at Wuhan University and later became the first woman judge on the mainland.

Dr Hu declined to reveal details of how he proposed to Dr Chung, but said they often visited Hua Xi in Chongqing , an area with a romantic atmosphere with its stream and a bridge.

Between 1946 and 1949, they moved to Tashkent in Russia where Dr Hu got a job. They continued their studies at the Sorbonne in Paris, where Dr Chung gained a doctoral degree in law. Dr Hu went on to London University in England where he qualified as a barrister.

'We both wanted to return to China, but it was unstable and dangerous after the Japanese occupation and later the civil war. We decided to come to Hong Kong in 1955,' he said.

Life was comfortable for the couple and their two sons when they first arrived. Dr Hung began practising as a barrister, while Dr Chung began a teaching career. She taught at various tertiary institutions, including United College, Baptist College, and Chu Hai College of Higher Education. She went on to become dean of the arts faculty at Baptist College.

The couple's decision, when they were 51, to set up a private college changed their lives and made education history in Hong Kong.

'I cannot recall on what occasion Dr Chung told me what she wanted. But I knew all along that it was her dream to set up a private college. She knew it was not right that many students, especially Form Six students studying at Chinese secondary schools, did not have the opportunity to further their studies at the tertiary level. There was an acute shortage of university places at that time,' Dr Hu said. 'I supported her all the way. We decided to set up a private college offering four-year programmes to students aspiring to further their studies.'

Dr Hu provided the financial backing for the college, selling his properties, using his life's savings and money made from working as a barrister. He managed to pay the cost of building the college and only got some of the money back when it proved a success.

He had high praise for his wife's academic contribution. 'Dr Chung is a very good scholar. She is an excellent academic, especially in law and literature. But she does not know about raising funds and development, so she does not have to worry about that - I can take care of it,' Dr Hu said.

When the college was first set up at Sing Woo Road, Happy Valley, in 1971, it had only 280 students. It grew to a seven-storey building on Monmouth Path in Wan Chai in 1977 to accommodate a growing number of students.

'The late governor, Sir Murray MacLehose, once visited us at the college. He was a liberal man open to new ideas. He showed a keen interest in the development of our college,' Dr Hu said.

'Dr Chung suggested we should be given land so that we could build a permanent campus.' In 1978, the government granted the college land at Braemar Hill, North Point. 'It was barren land and didn't have a decent road to it. It was very tough. It took us years to complete the project,' Dr Hu said.

He later sold his properties in Happy Valley and Wan Chai to fund the construction of two more buildings - a 20-storey library complex and the 30-storey residential-cum-amenities complex, which form the present campus of Shue Yan. However, they battled to obtain university status for the institution.

In 1978, the government offered to subsidise the college only if it had a 2-2-1 studying format - two years for matriculation, two years for a higher diploma and one year to obtain a qualification.

The college was also advised 10 years later that it needed to offer three-year programmes instead of four-year ones to qualify as a university.

But the couple wanted to keep the four-year set-up and rejected the move. The students backed their stand, going on a hunger strike and holding demonstrations. They, however, failed to win university status.

'A four-year system is needed for whole-person development. In Chinese, Shue Yan means nurturing benevolence and cultivating virtue. We promised our students that we would offer them a quality four-year qualification programme,' Dr Hu said.

Their belief in the four-year system ultimately proved right with all universities now responding to education reform initiatives by offering four-year degree programmes.

Shue Yan also launched colleges on the mainland, in the United States and Europe, and included Master of Business Administration and Bachelor of Law qualifications.

But Dr Chung paid a high price in the fight for university status - she suffered a stroke five years ago.

'We were having a meal in the canteen that night. Dr Chung suddenly collapsed. I knew something was very wrong. I held her very tight as I was worried that she might hit her head on the ground,' Dr Hu said.

Dr Chung is now wheelchair-bound but insists on making the rounds at the college and greeting the students.

After it was announced that the institution had won university status, Dr Chung said: 'Now that we have gained this new title, I ask every member of staff and every student, please, protect it.'

The couple's two sons are also actively involved in running the university.

Despite their advancing years, the couple has decided to continue living on the campus when they retire.

'We love being with young people very much - they are like children to me. It will be easier to take care of my wife and it is my honour to take care of her,' Dr Hu said.

'What has been achieved cannot be measured in money,' he said. 'What can make one happier than seeing young people get a quality education and then make a contribution to society.'