205 Congregation

principle of ‘managing by walking around’. Taking a leaf out of its books, I sat down with all 200 assistant and associate professors, in groups of a dozen or so during the month of September. Importantly I listened to and heard them out on a whole range of topics, ranging from career prospects to the academic and general environment to personal aspirations. And last month in October, I continued my annual tradition of holding town hall meetings with students from each of our undergraduate and research postgraduate programmes. Together we resolved quick and easy issues on the spot, like captioning and uploading of archived e-learning videos or provision of additional microwave ovens; as well as acted as mutual sounding boards on deeper and more complex areas of interest such as reforming the MBBS clinical curriculum or the impact of the future Chinese Medicine Hospital on teaching and learning. These sessions have been very useful in grounding my colleagues and I in the everyday realities of our stakeholders, whom we serve in addition to lead. Meritocracy and equality of opportunity So far I have talked about buildings and professors, but scarcely mentioned the very subjects in whose name we serve. We are not a technical research institute but a school. As such we must always remember that students are at the heart of our being. It is at least as important to recruit students than faculty. Therefore, we expend much deliberate energy in thinking about whom and how we admit. In the East, the Confucian moral ideal of well-educated rulers has always found syntonic echo with the Platonic concept of the philosopher king in the Athenian states. Since the end of World War II, this age-old emphasis on intelligence and ability as traits that societies should value has resulted in the rise of the meritocracy, in much of the developed world. One can understand it, at least in part, as a default by exclusion after experientially rejecting feudal aristocracy or collectivisation. Being at the intersection of the East and the West and per se an exemplar of Milton Friedman’s free market economy par excellence and very much a product of and beneficiary of globalisation, Hong Kong, like most other cosmopolitan, urbane and smart metropolises has come to represent the pinnacle expression of meritocracy. This has percolated through every facet of society, including university admissions. On the surface of it, meritocracy is a system that intends to give each new generation an equal chance to rise to the top by dint of their natural abilities and through hard work. Who could argue with that? But when educated professional elites pass on their connections, money, work ethic and ambitions to their children, while offsprings of the working class lack most of these ‘heritable’ traits, the gap endowed by the meritocratic advantage grows into an unbridgeable chasm and becomes entrenched intergenerationally. When this apparently ‘fair’ hierarchy hardens, like it has in Hong Kong as elsewhere over the decades, two problems inevitably emerge. First, the system is cruel because it justifies why some people fail. ‘Perhaps they should have worked harder and aimed higher’, so the saying too often goes. This leads to resentment and shame. Second, even for the winners in this system, there is a constant hum of anxiety that one is never good enough. Nowhere is this more true than in the preparation for university entrance examinations and interviews. The dystopian tutorial school and extracurricular activities merry-go-round suffered by every pupil is one such manifestation. Therefore many mainland teachers and parents breathed a quiet sigh of relief when the national government intervened recently, although finance types might have grumbled about the way it was executed. Ultimately though, one still needs to address the root reason – university admissions. That was why since 2013, HKUMed is the first and only school, to have explicitly set a reserved quota of at least three-quarters of available places for graduates of the local high school diploma system. It was not because of local favouritism but a recognition that the DSE2 is the only system that is truly open to all and that empirically other routes of entry are dominated by applicants from more advantaged families. We have upheld this self-imposed, equitydriven 75% JUPAS3 floor quota in our MBBS4 admissions ever since. However, given the JUPAS mechanism, one cannot predict how many of these offers are eventually ‘matched’ by the system, after incorporating candidate choice. Indeed from 2018, a number of candidates who were offered a place did not choose our programme because we would not compromise on assessment standards nor coddle. As such, the remaining places were subsequently offered to degree holders, IB5 and GCE A-level6 candidates, in order to fulfil the government mandated manpower-planned quota. Fundamentally, demographics have been a major headwind. Hong Kong’s overall eligible JUPAS candidate pool has shrunk by some 40% in the past decade. In parallel, the total number of manpowerplanned medical undergraduate places has increased by more than one-quarter. Therefore, medical programmes have become considerably less selective; to be precise, it is more than twice as easy to gain a place into medical school in 2021 compared to the beginning of the ‘3+3+4’ era in 2012/13. During the past decade between the two local medical schools, fewer than twothirds of first-year intakes have been from 2 Diploma of Secondary Education 3 Joint University Programmes Admissions System 4 Bachelor of Medicine and Bachelor of Surgery 8