Since being appointed acting president of Hang Seng Management College this year, Gilbert Fong Chee-fun has had a mountain to climb.
Fong - a translation professor whose works include the plays of Gao Xingjian, the first Chinese to win a Nobel Prize - faces the huge task of turning the post-secondary college into a management university. The former Hang Seng School of Commerce, founded with initial funding from Hang Seng Bank that provided A-level courses and business education, changed its purpose and was renamed in 2010 as a provider of degree programmes in business, journalism, English and translation.
The school built a reputation for turning out students who scored multiple A grades on the now-defunct A-level exam. "We want to shake off the label of being an 'A-grade' factory," says Fong, the former chairman of the translation department at Chinese University. "We are a bona fide university, though not in name. There is a long road ahead in developing our brand."
The college was flooded with 3,000 applications following the release of the Hong Kong Diploma of Secondary Education results last year, and accepted 1,800 students with an annual tuition charge of HK$62,000 each. Fong considers as its main rivals established names such as Open University and Shue Yan University, and a newcomer - Centennial College - founded last year by the University of Hong Kong's School of Professional and Continuing Education. Centennial charges HK$82,000 annually, compared with HK$42,100 at public universities.
Fong hopes the college can pass the validation procedures and earn university status in six or seven years. "In Hong Kong and Eastern societies, naming is very important. A university title will make our fund-raising efforts [and] student recruitment easier, and is important for us to survive and develop," he says.
The campus, located in a new, environmentally friendly, sprawling academic complex in the Siu Lek Yuen area of Sha Tin, includes a three-storey library and other buildings with language learning labs, lecture halls and a conference hall equipped for instruction in translating. Further expansion of the campus is under way, as the college wants to offer 8,000 places in 2019.
Fong is optimistic about the bigger role private universities will play in Hong Kong. The ratio of young people attending university in Hong Kong is expected to rise to 24 per cent, from the current 18 per cent, by the end of next year.
Until a new president is found, Fong is prepared for a hectic lifestyle, trying to raise the institution's profile. "I have to squeeze in time to do translations now," he says.