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November 2020   |   Volume 22 No. 1

A Values-Driven Approach

Professor Samson Tse Shu-ki is HKU’s new Dean of Student Affairs at a delicate time for the University following the social movement and ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. His message: let’s treasure what we have and build from there.

Professor Samson Tse Shu-ki is Hong Kong-born and bred – his father was a truck driver, his mother a shopkeeper – but he spent 20 years in New Zealand, teaching in the field of psychiatric rehabilitation. Living far away, he yearned for contact from home, so he and his wife began opening their doors on Friday evenings to Asian students to share a meal and good company. That experience of getting to know students outside the classroom – of mixing with, supporting and coaching them – is an approach he hopes to bring to his new role as HKU’s Dean of Student Affairs (DoSA). 

Like his predecessor, Dr Eugenie Leung, Professor Tse has a background in mental health and cares deeply about students’ well-being. Dr Leung is a clinical psychologist, while Professor Tse is a certified counsellor and accredited supervisor, and an accomplished scholar who has specialised in supporting people’s recovery from mental illness and problem gambling. He was based in the Department of Social Work and Social Administration before taking up his new position.

As DoSA, he heads the Centre of Development and Resources for Students (CEDARS), which provides support to students in the areas that lie beyond formal teaching and learning, such as housing, career counselling, service activities, general education, special needs, and personal counselling. 

These services have been disrupted by COVID-19, which came on the heels of the social movement in Hong Kong. Dr Leung had her hands full maintaining high-quality services and keeping lines of communication open in the midst of these crises. While the dust has not yet settled, Professor Tse is looking forward to navigating a new normality as people start returning to campus with the lifting of COVID-19 restrictions.

Gathering momentum 

“I keep hearing my colleagues and students say how they now value and treasure the chance to be together and see each other on campus. Why did we not value that in the past? When we are able to resume that normalcy, what will that mean to HKU? What does it look like? 

“As an example, I would like to see an expression of the energy, vibrancy and joy of being back together on campus – I’d like to see cultural performances, exercise and debating, all those things, popping up again via different media. But I’d like it to be done in a collective, programmatic way with students and student societies, so it is not just a one-off bubble that then bursts. 

“We already have good programmes, such as the Week of Welcome that integrates and welcomes local and non-local students to share a meal and do activities together. That is an excellent beginning, but I hope we can look at other mechanisms and opportunities to keep the momentum going.” 

He sees online engagement as one possibility. CEDARS recently ran some activities online, such as seminars on interview skills and the Global Meals Chat where students and alumni from around the world shared hometown dishes online. These not only had high enrolments, but students stuck with them – the participation rate was high, too.

Character building 

More importantly, Professor Tse has a vision for where his priorities will lie, called the ‘3Cs’, for community, character and caring campus. 

On community, he will focus on initiatives to build trust, welcome newcomers and develop community identity. On character, he wants students to flourish and to help them strengthen their values, resilience, friendship, integrity and the like (as Associate Dean of Undergraduate Education in the Faculty of Social Sciences, he spearheaded the Character of Leadership programme in collaboration with Oxford University over the past three years). And in terms of a caring campus, he wants HKU to be a place that looks after people of diverse backgrounds and provides all students with easy access to programmes and services for personal wellness and development and art and cultural experiences. 

“My chief focus is on student wellness and personal growth,” he added. “I am keen to talk with students from all walks of life, whether local or non-local, Mainland or overseas, affluent or struggling. I want HKU students to have fun, to have good friendships and to have a lot of interesting, life-enriching experiences while they are here.”

I keep hearing my colleagues and students say how they now value and treasure the chance to be together and see each other on campus. Why did we not value that in the past?