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Viva Voce

Education is Always on My Mind

An exclusive interview with the new Council Chairman Norman Leung

(Photos by Keith Hiro)

Dr. Norman N.P. Leung
Council Chairman


Education seems to hold a special place in your heart. Why’s that?

My family moved from Dongguan to Hong Kong in 1949. As my family fortune had taken a drastic downturn soon afterwards I had to begin working at the age of 12. But I never accepted my lot and seized every opportunity to enhance myself by attending evening school and studying English through tutorials. Sometimes I had to juggle with my work schedule and change shifts with my co-workers in order to attend evening classes. But I persisted and eventually returned to full-time studies in Form 3 at the age of 20, then went on to the University of Hong Kong and later to read law in England.

Education therefore means a lot to me and to a society.Through education I was able to overcome a deprived adolescence to embark on a professional career of my choice. It is also my firm belief that a society will be on an upward trajectory of progress if its people are given the opportunity to receive good education.

Tell us what you have done for education on the mainland.

I went back to visit Dongguan in 1985, after an absence of 36 years, and I noticed that the city was moving from an agricultural economy to urban development. I was a council member of the then City Polytechnic of Hong Kong. I wanted to do something for my place of origin and so in 1986 I volunteered my service as the vice-chairman of the planning committee for the Dongguan Polytechnic, leading to its establishment in 1989. I also helped sponsor a kindergarten and a primary school in my native village. My efforts have not since stopped as there are still many places in China so impoverished that education is not a given there. I helped rebuild two primary schools in Dingxi City of Gansu Province and named them after my parents. I have sponsored over 100 students from poor families in the rural areas to attend senior high school in Dingxi City. I have come to know each one of them well through correspondence. Some of them have graduated and even got into first-tier universities. It is gratifying to note their good academic results.

How do you see higher education in Hong Kong?

When compared to Singapore where university attendance rate is as high as 85%, Hong Kong (presently at 60%) has still some way to go. The Government can improve the situation by making more university places available in the eight funded universities, and efforts should also be made to leverage on the degree and associate degree programmes offered by the non-funded colleges. This way the opportunity for tertiary education can be offered to a greater number of aspiring young adults who can realize their potentials to become useful members of society. This in turn will improve the quality of the citizenry and the human capital of Hong Kong.

When and how did you begin your public services?

Soon after I began practising as a solicitor I had begun to do some pro bono work. My legal training had instilled in me an objective and analytical mindset and a logical approach to problem-solving and I made good use of my legal experience in litigation and commercial law by helping people of small means to solve their legal problems. Long before the days of the legal aid scheme, I as a young solicitor was already providing free legal advice at the Hong Kong Council of Social Service in Wanchai to needy people. I had also worked with the late Brook Bernacchi QC in fighting legal battles for the causes of the poor and underprivileged people on complimentary basis.

How are your first 100 days as CUHK Chairman?

My assumption of chairmanship couldn’t have coincided with a more eventful time of the University. I was immediately thrust into the torrent of events which demanded my immediate attention, including the search for a new Vice-Chancellor and taking appropriate actions in response to the recommendations of the UGC report on university governance. I made plans to reactivate and reconstitute the Executive Committee of the Council, draft a code of practice for Council members, and will lead the Council members in overseeing the execution of the University’s strategic plan for the next five years. There is also the milestone project of the CUHK Medical Centre. Thanks to all the Council members, the Council committees and the university administration, all of the above are being well handled and making remarkably good progress. During this period I had also met with various stakeholders including the university, college and faculty management, and staff and student associations. I believe I have gained a better understanding of their work and concerns. In sum, my first 100 days as Chairman can be described as eventful, challenging and gratifying.

What potentials do you see in the Chinese University?

Just as Hong Kong’s edge derives from its being a meeting place between the East and the West, CUHK, given its founding humanistic orientation and unswerving emphasis on bilingualism, is uniquely poised between traditional teaching and learning and modern educational paradigms to embrace the best of both worlds. Further, its unique collegiate system and emphasis on whole-person development combine to make its education the perfect answer to a fast-changing globalized world. CUHK already enjoys a good reputation in the region and worldwide and is a leader in many areas of learning and research. As Chairman, I would ensure that our policies and resource allocation would sustain its strategic development for coming challenges and successes.

How do you like the CUHK campus?

I joined the CUHK Council in June of last year and took an immediate liking to its campus. Its expansiveness and natural setting are such a big contrast to the urban campuses I used to know. I have visited most of the landmarks on the CUHK campus and begin to understand where the University derives its distinctive character and humanistic orientation. I’ll definitely spend more time on campus, not just in meetings but hopefully more leisurely moments when I can blend in with the environment, so to speak.

This article was originally published in No. 483, Newsletter in Sep 2016.

Norman N.P. Leung Council Chairman exclusive interview public services