Last year, I spoke about the Age of Anger. Little did I realise it would become the all-too-familiar reality of everyday life since June, and counting. This is one exception when I abhor an epidemiologist’s predictive prowess or a public health practitioner’s prescience.
Under normal circumstances, I would be reading out this speech at the Congregation ceremony. This year, I will have to leave the written word to deliver the message and spare you the monotony of my voice. Circumstances have necessitated the cancellation of the formal gathering but our resolve to push on remains ever strong.
Research and innovation
Science progresses mostly in tiny steps, and only after long stretches of incremental improvements come a large jump of levelling up. After patient tilling for six years, our efforts have paid off handsomely this past year. We have achieved a most pleasing set of funding successes. Five centres, in cancer drug discovery, emerging infections, health data science, infectious disease immunology and stem cell biology, have been admitted into the Health@ and AIR@InnoHK clusters at the Hong Kong Science Park. The teams are currently going through detailed contract negotiations. I will be able to share more details hopefully soonest. HKUMed also scored two for two in the latest round of the Research Grants Council’s (RGC) Theme-based Research Scheme under the “promoting good health” theme, and an additional Area of Excellence project out of two sector-wide. In terms of investigator-initiated grant success, I am delighted to report that we continue to lead by a very substantial margin in our predominant funding source, ie Health and Medical Research Fund which provides almost two-thirds of our individual competitive grant funding. In fact, our share at 51% is larger than the combined share for all the other institutions. For the RGC General Research Fund and Early Career Scheme, we have definitively reversed the worrying trend of the past couple of years by recapturing the top spot. There has indeed been a substantial recovery leap in our success rate and amount awarded where we took in 33% of total available funding.
While our performance in securing input to producing good research has been exceptional this past year, the sector-wide six-yearly output evaluation in the form of the Research Assessment Exercise will take place imminently. We will shortly be submitting a record number of outputs for consideration by the University Grants Committee, totalling 1,017 publications and patents, 13 impact cases and 4 overall research environment statements. Hopefully I will have positive news to share when we receive the results next year. Meanwhile, please allow me to take this opportunity to thank all my colleagues for their dedication and hard work in making possible these returns. Regardless, our scientists are the true heroes to better care at the bedside and protection of whole populations.
As I announced last year, we have duly established the Centre for PanorOmic Sciences or CPOS, which was formally inaugurated by the Commissioner for Innovation and Technology earlier this month. Its triaxial core mission is to strengthen the provision and development of cutting-edge core technological platforms, to support multi-omics research and training, and to undertake and oversee major strategic research programmes. CPOS’s reach will extend to two new clinical research facilities at the soon-to-be-commissioned Hong Kong Children’s Hospital research labs and the future University Block of Grantham Hospital. This enhanced unit will also stand HKUMed in good stead to contribute fully to Government’s “Hong Kong Genome Project” that should be rolling out presently.
In collaboration with the Science Park, we will be sending our first cohort of staff for training at the Scottish National Blood Transfusion Service in preparation for Hong Kong’s first GMP facility, on the Sassoon Road campus, that is being commissioned for the subsequent year. This will pave the way for the development and testing of novel cellular therapeutic agents, and the establishment of a larger scale facility at the Grantham University Block eventually.
The Financial Secretary in his 2019-20 Budget has “set aside a dedicated provision of $16 billion for UGC-funded universities to enhance or refurbish campus facilities, in particular the provision of additional facilities essential for R&D activities (such as laboratories)”. The Faculty has submitted our bid as part of the HKU-wide package to develop and enhance our research hardware, ranging from the most sophisticated, hybrid cryo-electron microscopes to animal facilities. We are also mobilising considerable internal as well as philanthropic resources to support our equipment upgrades for both research and clinical purposes.
On the software side, we have restructured and reconstituted the Clinical Trials Centre to capture a rapidly expanding market in the Greater Bay Area and beyond on the mainland. This is where entrepreneurship meets robust evaluative science, converging on therapeutic impact writ large.
Despite our many successes, the prospect, as with most things in life, is not all rosy alas. The Research deanery faces an unprecedented challenge in recruiting world-class scientists and technicians to staff the many exciting initiatives described here. Our Departments of Microbiology and Pathology are housed in the makeshift Block T of Queen Mary Hospital, that was converted from residential flats and has persistently thrown up structural issues that have interfered with daily operations, two years since occupation. Definitive relief can only come with Phase 2 redevelopment of Queen Mary, which even with luck will only be completed around 2030. We still lack all-weather, permanent biobanking facilities with proper 24/7 secondary power. The absolute necessity for such was made painfully clear when we experienced a major fire at a storage site at the beginning of the academic year, that had threatened the destruction of decades of work. Finally, novel multi-omics, big data research also demand new thinking vis-à-vis universal consent for all patients on admission, data access and linkage, and myriad other facilitative policies and procedures. HKUMed, our hospital partner the Hospital Authority, and Hong Kong writ large have much to learn, and quickly, if we are to succeed in perpetuating our competitive edge in clinical medicine and the health sciences as a world leader.
Teaching and learning
As I outlined in last year’s Address, we had launched quite a number of novel initiatives concerning student wellness, curricular modernisation, admissions and assessment. Allow me to report progress in turn. First and foremost, student centredness remains our top priority in all aspects of teaching and learning. By recognising that individuals learn, cope and thrive differently, it becomes necessary to support each unique student to become a well-rounded person and a competent and dedicated health professional. Student-centredness means a focus on learner well-being, including enhanced awareness, workshops, counselling and case management. Of particular note, in consultation and collaboration with representatives of the various student societies, we adopted the “Teaching and Learning Charter”. The Charter aims to codify the expected norms and expectations on the part of both learner and teacher, with due import given to those whom we serve, ie patients and the general public. I anticipate and hope that this will maintain and enhance a culture of mutual respect and support. Dr Julie Chen as Assistant Dean (Learner wellbeing) has been the driving force behind our substantial progress.
The Medical Council of Hong Kong recently completed its quinquennial accreditation and both medical schools received a clean bill of health. In particular, amongst other compliments, the accreditation team opined that “the development of the Enrichment Year is a bold and innovative endeavour and will provide students with diverse and valued experiences”. I am excited to report that the first cohort of MBBS students completed their Enrichment Year with flying colours this past summer. Specifically, our network of collaborating institutions totalled 75, including 57 universities, 21 NGOs and 3 research centres locally, on the mainland and overseas spanning 25 jurisdictions. Sixty-four students out of the class of 235 gained an additional degree in 17 intercalated programmes at six overseas universities as well as HKU, of which almost one-quarter were a first. We do not rest on these laurels. Dr George Tipoe is constantly on the lookout to open up more and better Enrichment Year opportunities for students.
Professor Julian Tanner, Dr Pamela Lee and colleagues have made excellent progress with MBBS curricular modernisation. Of note, 57% of didactic lectures in semester 1 and 35% in semester 2 of the first year have been removed from the formal timetable and converted into online learning formats. Similar flexibility is being introduced in the Year 2 curriculum, for implementation in the 2020/1 academic year. Conceptually, we have introduced new themes that can better prepare practitioners of the future. For instance, they include precision medicine that links bench to bedside, systems-based practice through interprofessional team-based delivery, and clinical reasoning through a series of masterclasses in the Clinical Foundation Block that demonstrate how doctors think and work.
Another commendation the Medical Council team highlighted was “the use of the multiple-mini interview (MMI) format for the admission interview”. Indeed the present decanal team has always paid close attention to curating the best incoming class that would be compatible with our educational philosophy and societal mission. Over and above the bare basics of academic capability, which is imperfectly captured by DSE or IB scores, we aim to maintain a healthy, diverse class mix of pupils from different types and locations of high schools and universities. While HKUMed has tried our level best to implement a fair and robust admissions system, from providing as much information in multiple formats as possible to effectively pre-committing offers, unhealthy competitive tactics have alas interfered. The end result would unlikely best serve the needs of the student body writ large, and in the longer term Hong Kong’s health system, such as the much-larger-than-quota incoming class at our sister school this year even though government is supposed to tightly control student numbers. Again, I reiterate my word of caution about the price of acquiescence on the part of the regulating authorities in the longer term.
On improving assessment, we are pushing on with gusto. In addition to our undertaking that there will be zero repeat questions that perversely encourage rote learning as opposed to problem solving, we have been expending more effort than ever in developing, vetting and post hoc evaluating each and every question. In response to student demand, we will be adding a formative examination for MBBS II, beginning next week. We are also reviewing the validity and utility of different forms of continuous assessment. Dr Victor Lee who is charged with overseeing this portfolio has been a real champion, and deserves our every thanks.
For every effort we devote to the MBBS curriculum, our five other undergraduate programmes also benefit. In fact, they will not have to repeat the same trial and error and can expeditiously adapt some or all of the successful experiences. Let me highlight a few examples. Dovetailing with the Second Chance Scheme for student admissions, BPharm and BBMS graduates have special articulation pathways to the MBBS programme during and after their degree course. BNurs, following the MBBS 130th anniversary curriculum, is also revamping its entire course, including earlier clinical exposure starting right from the very first semester, a new programme in life enrichment learning introduced this September, and new modules in palliative care, health informatics, clinical reasoning, and legal and ethical issues. The School of Public Health’s kinesiology minor has been rewarded with very strong demand across the entire University, ranking ninth out of 104 minors offered. The School has also just launched a new BASc course in Global Health and Development. Finally, the pass rate of the Chinese medicine professional registration examination has dramatically improved to become co-first, from a distant third, amongst the three local schools. In addition to the improvements made by our own teaching staff, alumni involvement in revision classes and mock clinical viva contributed to this pleasing outcome.
I am pleased to report that the outside practice reporting and auditing processes have now reached maturity at Queen Mary Hospital and Gleneagles Hong Kong (GHK), with substantial progress being made at the Hong Kong Sanatorium and Hospital and initiating exploratory steps at HKU-Shenzhen Hospital. Such necessary formality that is implemented efficiently will give us stability to move ahead and excel for our patients who would otherwise be denied access to our colleagues’ unique and specialised expertise.
The Hospital Authority Teaching Hospitals Committee, chaired by its Chief Executive and attended by the Board Chairman and the two deaneries have also hit its stride and is now systematically resolving a whole series of challenges in facilitating teaching, training and research in the hospital public sector.
GHK has now been accredited for specialty training by the Colleges of Anaesthesiologists, Community Medicine and Orthopaedic Surgeons. Family Physicians, Ophthalmologists and Surgeons are scrutinising the facilities and processes for accreditation, hopefully soon. Of course it aims to become a recognised training site for all 14 medical colleges of the Hong Kong Academy of Medicine. At the undergraduate level, medical and nursing students are beginning to receive instruction in emergency medicine, gynaecology and orthopaedics at the Hospital.
We continue to benefit from very substantial education and training grants from the Li Shu Fan Medical Foundation and Hong Kong Sanatorium and Hospital writ large, this year particularly in internal medicine and oncology.
On the other side of the Shenzhen River, our sentinel foray into the Greater Bay Area vision – the HKU-Shenzhen Hospital – has been named one of the top nine hospitals in Guangdong province. The long awaited liver transplant accreditation may finally be in sight, having just introduced organ donation and harvest on site as part of the national network. The Hospital’s Research Block has commenced works and will be completed in 2024, in a happy coincidence with 3 Sassoon Road and the New Annex back on the home campus.
Finally, it would be remiss of me not to mention the most fundamental challenge for us, and others, to deliver world-class clinical service in Hong Kong. The myopically restrictive licensing and professional regulatory regimes of the various health care professions continue to render recruitment and staffing of longstanding vacancies virtually impossible, that is of course not made any easier by recent events. While we are at the mercy of macro circumstances outwith our direct influence, their impact are keenly felt at the coalface by all of us, including patients.
HKUMed, like all organisations in the Industrial Revolution 4.0-world of the future as now, will be as good, or found as wanting, as our stock and growth of human capital. Therefore I announce that we will be launching our 140 for 140 campaign, ie to recruit 140 additional professoriate members by our 140th anniversary. To this end, Executive Associate Dean Professor Vivian Lin, has just presented her Human Capital Masterplan to the Dean and Heads Advisory Committee three weeks ago. This whole-of-faculty effort has received strong support from heads of departments and directors of schools.
In essence, the Plan addresses growth by recruitment that includes a global roadshow and recruitment tour, according to a detailed masterlist of specific vacancies by discipline. We will also recruit beyond vacancies to make offers when talents are identified. Succession planning for administrative headship and disciplinary leadership is another focus of work, for which we will be drawing up plans at the departmental or school level, taking into full account clinical service needs where appropriate, and subject demands and opportunities scientifically.
In parallel we will be growing our own inhouse talent and nurture ever higher quality work by providing additional incentives through new productivity reward schemes. The Human Capital deanery will be improving operational efficiencies in critical bottleneck processes, as well as reviewing PRD reward steps methodology specifically in relation to teaching and learning and for clinical service. We will also be working closely with the Vice President (Academic Staffing and Resources) office to clarify expectations for tenure and promotion via a series of USPC /PTP fora.
Present circumstances since June require us to redouble our resolve to not only survive the anticipated short-term challenges of retaining and recruiting good people, but to thrive in the medium to longer term leveraging the many recent, new opportunities from Government’s headlong push into innovation and technology to the Greater Bay Area’s transformation, and responding to the external push factors of Brexit and the treatment of the Chinese-American scientific community.
Infrastructure and capital projects
There are currently more cranes – four on my last count – on the Sassoon Road medical campus than the rest of the University put together.
Since the beginning of this academic year, we have commissioned the new lobby at 21 Sassoon Road, soon to be formally dedicated as the Cheung Chin Lan Hong Atrium (蘭庭) leading to the Cheung Kung Hai Conference Centre that together form a seamless continuum of our flagship public space in honour one of HKUMed’s staunchest supporting families. The Learning Commons on the second floor has also just been completed for student use.
The New Annex at Tang Court, the redevelopment of Fan Pui Garden and improvement and greenery works on the first floor at 21 Sassoon Road is proceeding apace. 3 Sassoon Road that will accommodate the Schools of Nursing and Chinese Medicine is making similarly good progress.
Funding support for short-term measures to cope with increased and increasing student numbers from the Food and Health Bureau, including omni-telepresence and VR/AR works, is slowly making its way through the relevant LegCo committees although the 2019-21 triennium has already begun with the biggest classes HKUMed has ever admitted to satisfy local demand for health care human resources.
Last year, I already outlined the medium term measures that had received in-principle funding commitment in last year’s Government Budget. With the Estates Office, we are deliberately and systematically working through the many technical feasibility studies, planning permission submissions, traffic and environmental impact assessments, detailed design exercises, and so on, to bring us closer to breaking ground and building the teaching and research facilities that we so desperately require to maintain our competitive edge in the global innovation and training arenas.
Knowledge Exchange and Faculty Advancement (KEFA)
The Faculty Board recently endorsed a plan to upgrade the status of Pharmacy and Pharmacology from department to school, that will recognise its achievements thus far, bring it into line with international norms and give it the proper platform to compete and excel at the next level. We will be presenting the case for consideration by the Senior Management Team, Senate and Council presently.
In the past year, we have raised HK$389.9 million for scholarships and prizes, research support and campus development, including three new endowed professorships and the CH Leong Distinguished Visiting Professorship in Leadership from over a thousand supporters. Additionally, HKUMed has submitted HK$64.3 million for matching under Government’s first Research Matching Grant Scheme to date, with multiples hopefully to come although the recent social unrest and its fallout will make this that much more challenging.
Our researchers have filed 40 new patents, founded nine spin-off companies and generated annual income of HK$21.6 million. With the Hong Kong Science Park, we jointly held a retreat this past September to encourage more colleagues to think about and take action on knowledge translation and entrepreneurship.
In terms of communication with the wider community, locally and globally, the KEFA team has revamped the Faculty’s presence on social media namely Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. We are planning to inaugurate our WeChat and Weibo channels soon.
Opportunities from threats
We have been living through the worst of times, although whether Hong Kong’s best of times has already passed or is yet to come remains undetermined. Since June 14, I have shared my thoughts on the HKUMed Facebook page and in RTHK’s Letter to Hong Kong, as your dean, teacher, colleague and quite simply a fellow Hongkonger. By doing so, and in continuing to intently hear out the hopes and fears of students and colleagues during the formal “Meet the Dean” sessions at the beginning of each academic year and informally on a daily basis, I hope to maintain, indeed strengthen genuine and deep communication with all of those whom I serve. Topics have ranged from praying for Hong Kong, trust and faith, remembrance and reflection, scar and hurt, duty and calling, wisdom, and most recently truth. In the original Chinese, they are 「為香港祈禱」、「信」、「思」、「傷」、「崗」、「慧」、「真」. Yet I am still asked by many in the community how and why students and health care colleagues may in the majority appear to have a particular political bent, or at least are generally perceived to be.
Indeed the higher education and health care sectors have been in the eye of the political storm. While I do not for a moment pretend that I can speak on behalf of colleagues and friends in these two sectors, allow me to give my personal take, for the sake of finding common ground.
All through our training as health care workers and teachers, the notion of empathy is drummed into our thinking and being. Feeling for and being tender hearted towards others become second nature to us. We identify and vicariously suffer with our charge, be they students or patients. We define our professionalism by literally standing by and sitting with the sick, the weak and the meek.
Our two professions are also brought up to be non-judgemental as a matter of course. I cite Confucius’s famous dictum「有教無類」and Hippocrates’s teaching in its modern version, the Declaration of Geneva, wherein the following is recited by every incoming medical class:
I will not permit considerations of age, disease or disability, creed, ethnic origin, gender, nationality, political affiliation, race, sexual orientation, social standing or any other factor to intervene between my duty and my patient…
A final commonality is that we do not easily give up on our charge, no matter how impossible the situation or recalcitrant the attitude or behaviour.
These said, where the id or the emotive axis tugs our heart strings taut, the ego or the dimension of reason should provide the necessary counterbalance. Freud contended that “in its relation to the id (it) the ego is like a person on horseback, who has to hold in check the superior strength of the horse”. One can also take reference from ancient Chinese wisdom by way of the Doctrine of the Mean or 「中庸」. What does 中庸 mean? The Doctrine offers this definition: 「不偏之謂中，不易之謂庸。中者，天下之正道，庸者，天下之定理。」 Confucius’s grandson 子思, reputedly author of The Doctrine gives the following advice: 「喜怒哀樂之未發，謂之中；發而皆中節，謂之和。中也者，天下之大本也；和也者，天下之達道也。 」
Pulling it altogether then, true professionalism is the delicate fulfilment of the logos of reason, the ethos of communal values for the greater good and the pathos of individual caring, all at once. They need not tear us apart but consilience requires persistent effort by and for all.
We are living through the winter of despair, may spring bring hope. I take comfort in that hope that more of us will put “we” before “I”. If one replaces “i” with “we”, then “illness” becomes “wellness” indeed.
Good luck and all very best wishes to the Class of 2019!
2018-9 Honour Roll
Professional Recognition and Honours/Awards (Teams)
Professional Recognition and Honours/Awards (Individuals)
The following colleagues are the Honours recipients of 2018 and 2019 Honours List and JP Appointment by the Hong Kong SAR Government:
The following colleagues received HKU’s intramural awards for Research Excellence in December 2018:
The following colleagues received Faculty Outstanding Research Output Award:
The following colleagues were conferred Endowed Professorships in 2019:
Major Research Support