Former Hang Seng educator plans school for the underprivileged

PUBLISHED : Friday, 18 October, 2013, 6:29pm
UPDATED : Friday, 18 October, 2013, 6:33pm

A luminary in the private higher education sector, former college head Chui Hong-sheung could have gone into retirement, basking in the satisfaction of his career achievements.

Instead the 64-year-old has remained active, ready for another uphill battle.

The former head of Hang Seng School of Commerce, a former matriculation college, Chui oversaw its transition into a private-degree-granting institution, renamed as the Hang Seng Management College in 2010. The Sha Tin-based college is now offering five degree programmes and has about 4,000 students.

It seemed mission accomplished for Chui. But there is still a lot on his plate.

Having left Hang Seng last year, Chui has turned his attention to setting up the territory's first private Christian university, with plans for its first intake of 150 students in 2015. The college is tentatively named Gratia Christian College, and will be in Shek Kip Mei.

Chui is prepared to apply for other sites from the government to create a bigger campus. On top of the HK$100 million pledged by a local donor, it aims to seek an endowment fund of at least HK$200 million.

Besides philanthropists, Chui is also counting on a team of Christian advisers, including retired social work professor Alex Kwan; Daniel Shek, a chair professor at Polytechnic University; and Professor Mok Ka-ho, associate vice-president of the Institute of Education.

Dr Patrick Lau, associate dean of the School of Business at the Chinese University, and Philemon Choi Yuen-wan, former chairman of the Commission on Youth, are also among them.

Two years is a very short time to set up a university from scratch. But thanks to his experience at Hang Seng, Chui is confident about gaining government approval and accreditation of the school's three initial degree programmes: business administration, social work and psychology.

Chui is also hopeful that the student-centred model at the school of commerce, which was widely called an "A-grade factory" for its students' top rankings in the A-levels, can be adopted successfully.

When he transferred to Hang Seng from a secondary school in 1996, Chui had two goals: to turn it into a private college and to transform average students into top scorers.

Instilling self-confidence among the students is the key, he says. "It is not difficult for a student to improve his grades. First of all, he needs to set a goal for himself, be determined, and adopt an effective and efficient learning method. We made our students think, not memorise."

At Hang Seng, English was taught to small classes of around 12 students. "Teachers with heart make a big difference," added Chui, who is also a passionate teacher.

"At Hang Seng, our teachers worked as teams - they shared lesson plans, teaching tips and had much interaction with students. I had conversations with students with low scores.

It is ridiculous for a school to only accept good students. A school's role is to teach students well

"It is ridiculous for a school to only accept good students. A school's role is to teach students well," he says.

Chui himself is testament to making something out of oneself, even with little resources, by working hard. Having grown up in tough times during the 1950s, he has a burning desire to help underprivileged children lead a productive life.

Rather than formal education, Chui, to save money, attended extra classes run by a primary school. Then he managed to get into the elite Diocesan Boys' School with financial help from his brother.

In the junior forms, he struggled in the English-language learning environment, but he persevered. He used the same stamina to improve his performance in track and field events, becoming an outstanding athlete. Years later, he was accepted into the University of Hong Kong. After becoming a Christian in year one at university, he decided to become an educator.

Gratia will be a teaching-led institution with a focus on character-building. "Christian or not, religious institutions share such values as compassion, serving others and justice. We also want to develop servant leaders like Jesus," Chui says.

Discipline, he maintains, is part of building character. Former Hang Seng students were certainly trained to follow strict rules like being punctual when it comes to class and submitting assignments. Dyed hair was banned and physical education was mandatory.

"We enforced strict rules. I sat down with students who kept coming to class late," Chui says.

It is not yet known if the same strict rules will prevail at Gratia, but Chui certainly expects it to provide much-needed alternative paths for school leavers. He is angry at the fact that more than 10,000 students who met the university entrance requirements this year were denied entry into government-funded institutions due to limited places.

"The majority of these students cannot afford to further their education abroad. Neither are they well-equipped to get a decent job in Hong Kong today. Our college would provide an opportunity to this group of underprivileged students to further their studies and move up the social ladder."

Several institutions are offering about 7,000 first-year private degree places this year. Albeit with a small initial intake, Gratia will help meet the growing demand for university education among school leavers.

The new college may also provide associate degree places, but Chui echoes a educators' common view that it is time for a consolidation of the sub-degree sector. "They have grown so fast that you just can't properly control the quality of these programmes."