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Speech from the Master of Residential College Lap-Chee Tsui



 It is a singular honour for me to be the inaugural Master of this beautiful and well-equipped Residential College.

On this important occasion for me and for you, I would like to address three questions with you:

  1. What is whole person education?

  2. What is the role of Residential College in your education?

  3. What are your commitments in your next 4 years of learning at Zheda?

First of all, congratulations! You have joined one of the finest universities in the country.

Building on the 120 years of great tradition at Zhejiang University, the College is committed to working with two of the world leading universities, namely, the University of Edinburgh and University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, as well as the Institute of China Studies, to allow its residents to develop a culture of new international perspectives, sense of social responsibility and caring for the welfare of humankind.

In other words, the College has put in a great deal of effort and resources to build an outstanding learning environment for you.

Whole Person Education

The first topic I would try to discuss with you is whole person education, especially in the context of the role of universities in this.

Whole person education is much more than the so-called liberal education in USA. According to the American Association of Colleges and Universities, Liberal education is a philosophy of education that empowers individuals with broad knowledge and transferable skills, and a strong sense of value, ethics, and civic engagement. 

Characterized by challenging encounters with important issues, and more a way of studying than a specific course or field of study, a liberal education can be achieved at all types of colleges and universities. 

Whole person education is a bit more – it is not about curriculum, but the university’s attitude towards student-centered learning experience. It is about experiential learning, about service learning, possibly about exchange study abroad, and it is about student-led activities. 

The Residential College of Zhejiang University is here to provide an environment for whole person education, because much of your learning activities will happen outside classrooms. We cannot make the learning experiences compulsory, or otherwise they would become credit bearing courses and part of the curriculum. 

I am a geneticist and molecular biologist. I believe that we are all different individuals, with different appearances and abilities, because we have different genetic makeup inherited from our parents. Environment, however, plays a very important modifying effect. I sometimes say that nature and nurture play a balancing role in your future success.

We cannot change your genes, but the College is committed to providing you with the right environment outside classrooms, giving you a sufficiently broad education so that you can benefit from your study here on this campus. 

And the university must allow students to organize their own activities inside and outside the College, especially learning from service in the greater community

Two stories

Let me end my comments of this topic with 2 stories:

The first story was told by the Registrar of the University of Hong Kong (or HKU), where I served for some 12 years

The story is about an old lady who had a beautiful yard – a beautiful lawn of nicely trimmed grass in front of her house. Then, one day came a group of children from another village. They used her beautiful lawn, the nicely trimmed grass yard, as their football (or soccer) field. 

It did not take long for them to destroy her beautiful yard. She tried to fence it and chase the children away, but all efforts to no avail. 

One day she thought of an idea: she started to give each boy who played in her front yard a dollar.

Guess what? The children were obviously very happy. Each day, they came to play, collected a dollar and bought snacks on the way home.

Few months later, the old lady suddenly stopped giving the children money; she said she had no more money; the children were unhappy; they lost their interest in coming to play. Obviously, the old lady was able to have her nice lawn again.

What is the moral of the story? 

I have no idea if this is a true story or not but I think it is all about purposes and incentives. 

The children forgot why they were playing football on the old lady’s lawn in the first place. They forgot their purpose. They were confused by the old lady’s diversion trick. She succeeded in using a new incentive to divert the children’s purpose – the old lady achieved the purpose of driving the children away because they lost their original purpose.

So, remember why you join the College.

My second story is a true story, which happened in HKU, when I first became the president there. 

One day, the captain of the to the University’s rowing club wrote to me to ask for money to replace their equipment. The reason why they lost to their rival, the Chinese University of Hong Kong, year after year, he argued, was because the lack of practice place, lack of storage place, and lack of new equipment. So, I decided to give the rowing club some help. 

Instead of providing them all the money they would need, I offered them a matching grant to match the money they could raise for the purchase of a new boat

[By the way, HKU’s student union is an independent organization. The university does not interfere their activities and they are financially independent. So, when other universities send their student teams to competitions; we can only relay the invitation to the relevant student bodies.]

Back to my story: A few months later, I heard from the news that the University’s rowing team had beaten the Chinese U team. 

So I said to my colleagues that good equipment really made a difference; and that it was money well spent. 

Another few months later, I ran into the rowing club captain in an alumni event and I expected him to thank me for the matching grant.

To my surprise, however, he apologized that they never raised enough money and that they never got my matching grant!

But, why did they win?

He explained that my care and moral support were good enough for them to win. This strengthens my belief that the role of the University is to provide whatever support the student need to accomplish their tasks and an environment conducive for them to thrive. My care and encouragement was sufficient to motivate the rowers.

Eventually, the rowing team raised enough to buy a new boat years later. I was invited to christen and launch their boat. They have won many races since then.

 I do hope, however, the skills and confidence the students developed over the course did not just allowed them to win the race, but also other tasks in school and, most important, long after their graduation.

Residential College

The second subject I would try to share with you is Residential College.

Forty odd years ago, I was a student in the New Asia College of the Chinese University of Hong Kong. I had a chance to stay at the student dormitories during my last year of study. As you may or may not know, the Chinese University was formed by the merger of three colleges. The residence I stayed was not the same form of residential college we are talking about today. Despite that, the memories of my residential days are still fresh. 

As I became the Vice Chancellor (and President) of the University of Hong Kong, I learned that the unviersity inherited the British residential college tradition from its counterparts since its establishment a century ago. It was only because of the budget cuts and the restraints from the government in later years, all student hostels in Hong Kong universities had to operate like a dormitory to save money when the student number increased.

However, just before I retired from HKU in 2014, the university curriculum changed back from 3 years to 4 years in Hong Kong and HKU took the opportunity to build 4 new residential colleges, large enough to house 1,800 students in total. Interesting, one of them is even named after me – Lap-Chee College!

Why everyone is talking about residential colleges?

Is that a new world trend? Or it is because of a sudden mutation?

Defintiely not. 

It is simply because the world is changing. Everthing around us is evolving. 

We are clearly living in fast-changing times. And these rapid changes are undeniably linked to the speed at which technological innovations are taking place today. 

The world, in which we live, is more scientifically advanced and technologically connected than at any other time in history. We can see fast-moving social and political changes happening on the other side of the earth almost as soon as they happen.

The world is getting smaller, but the scale and complexity of issues and problems are getting bigger.

New forms of activity are learnt as they are being created. We are confronted with more and more novel situations and ill-defined problems. There are fewer moral certainties and more moral dilemmas.

Therefore, the type of human talent our society needs has to be different from our generation (or my generation). And, the type of graduates our society expects from the universities has also evolved.

So what kind of human talent does our society need today? The taxpayers, the government, the parents, the employers, and the students, all have different expections.

We learn from many surveys of employers that they would like to recruit graduates not only with specific knowledge of the academic or professional subject matters, but also the ability to perform critical thinking, and the habit of life-long learning, so that they may be better able to tackle novel situations and ill-defined problems. They are beginning to know that universities are not professional training centers.

The society also wants to see university graduates who are good in communication and collaboration, and also have leadership qualities and advocacy for the improvement of the human condition.

Knowledge itself is a necessary but not sufficient attribute that you would like to possess when you leave Zhejiang University; you are also expected to have adequate competency in your work place, and, most important proper set of values.

Even more important, employees are expected to have personal and professional ethics, self-reflection and greater understanding of others, especially intercultural understanding and the meaning of global citizenship.

My last topic: your commitments

In the remaining few minutes, I wish to say a few words on what I expect of you, fellow members of this College.

First of all, you are not in secondary schools any more. 

When you were in secondary school, you studied in the same classroom as your fellow students. You learned from your teachers. You have studied hard and taken many tests and examinations along the way. Now, you have come to a brand new environment.

On this campus, we provide you with state-of-the-art academic programmes, a highly conducive learning environment, opportunities, resources and support for you to have an integrated set of skills and experiences in the first place, inside and outside of your classrooms. 

And, with the introduction of the Residential College , we are providing you with a shared space for you to live and learn with your teachers, fellows, counsellors, tutors and part-time advisors on this campus, with a very much enhanced platform for multidisciplinary education, knowledge exchange and cultural interaction. 

The College also provides you with active mentorship, academic advising and experiential internship. 

We promote self-governance of student bodies and facilitates self-directed student activities, thereby allowing you to develop to your fullest potential, achieve academic excellence and, at the same time, establish critical and independent thinking as well as high morality and ethical principles.

With all these privileges, you must fulfill the responsibilities on your side, as a member of the Residential College:

1. Go to classes – no one tells you when to get up in the morning any more; so please keep a good diary for yourself.

2. Participate in as many activities in the College as possible, of course not at the detriment or expense of your formal learning. Be honest to yourself.

3. Please remember to put in your efforts, work hard, and, at the same time, have your eye open for new opportunities. 

4. Obviously, new ideas and innovations will be coming your way as you learn new things and work together.

5. However, you must be honest and maintain the highest level of moral standard and integrity, in whatever you do. There are no short cuts.

6. At the same time, it goes without saying that I hope you are always ready to contribute to society. I hope you are all constructive members of society. Think about problems that are not immediately around you. In other words, be a useful member of society.

7. And, I would also like you to keep a positive attitude. 


I also have some advices for you:

(1) Don’t be just a listener. In university education, especially, at this International campus, learning is not just about listening to professors or tutors in the classrooms – you have to study inside and outside classrooms. I don’t mean doing home works. 

I mean learning from outside of your lecture halls, lecture notes and textbooks. 

I mean learning by participation, learning by experience, learning by practice; learn the habit of life-long learning, as learning never stops

I also want you to challenge ‘authorities’

(2) Ask difficult questions

Teachers and tutors are no longer authorities, because information is everywhere, although they do have more experience than you

Nevertheless, please don’t be afraid of asking difficult questions, but do think carefully about your question and ready to find the answers yourself

Through the seeking of information and analyzing your answers, you would not only be able to learn more about the problems, but to deal with new and unfamiliar ones in the future

(3) Engage in team work and prepare to accept new ideas

As I mentioned earlier, please be ready to engage in teamwork, learn to adapt to new culture and environment.

You must learn to communicate, to communicate effectively and openly, and be prepared to listen to others, learn new things, borrow ideas, but remain critical.

You need to have a critical attitude but yet also be critical on yourself. The society will not tolerate those who are only critical on other people but have absolutely no principle on what he do or say.

(4) My last advice for you

Since this may be your first time away from home, you are experiencing many new things:

A new environment

Meeting many new people, from different parts of the country and, the world, and etc.

You are supposed to learn but you have no homework

These may be traumatic for you; you may have a hard time coping with the new environment

If you need someone to talk to, please share your problems with your fellow college members, including your teachers, tutors, fellows and counselors.

I am also available too – Please do not hesitate to approach me when you want to speak to me. 

Final remarks

Thank you very much for allowing me to share with you some of my stories and thoughts. 

I am truly honoured to have been appointed to serve as your inaugural Master and am committed to working with you to foster a most enjoyable and rewarding living and learning environment for all.

I hope you would grow with the College and, likewise, the College would grow with you.

I wish you all an enjoyable and rewarding time in the College. 

Thank you very much, again.