Dr Charles Wong

Doctor of Laws Dr Charles Wong

Thursday 31 January 2013 at 11.15 am - Orator: Dr Sally Barnes

Madam Chancellor,

Charles Wong is one of those unique individuals who not only has had a clear vision of what he wished to achieve but also has shown the leadership qualities to make them happen.

Charles grew up in Hong Kong during a time of massive building and modernisation following the end of World War II.  He is the middle of five siblings.  It must have been a very exciting time to be a young boy growing up while the city was going through such massive change.  During his youth he watched Victoria Harbour shrink as more and more land was reclaimed.  He saw the building and rebuilding of many Hong Kong features and skyscrapers that would soon become the iconic images of the Hong Kong we know today.  Charles went to a Catholic Secondary school where he seems to have been an able and popular student who got on well with his teachers.  He has even stayed in contact with his form teacher who just turned 80 and is the class convenor for their 50th anniversary later this year. 

In 1966 Charles left Hong Kong to do his A-Levels in London and then spent a year at the University College of North Wales before returning to London and attending Kings College, where he completed his BSc in Mathematics in 1971.  He enjoyed being in London during the turbulent 60s, and was even in Paris during the demonstrations in May 1968.  

Charles clearly enjoyed overseas study, as he was not only an international student in the UK but over the course of his life had a Kellogg fellowship at the Australian National University in Canberra, as well as studying and completing an M.A. in Adult Education from the University of British Columbia in Vancouver Canada.  I wonder if part of the reason he decided to do a degree in Vancouver was that his wife was based in San Francisco so the commute was not too difficult.

Madam Chancellor, our international students do go through culture shock when they first arrive in the UK, but 40 years ago, for a young international student to arrive in the UK was even more difficult.  There were no computers, no internet, no mobile phones and air letters would take two to three weeks to arrive.  Charles said that living in two cultures broadens your experiences, but living in three or more rounds you out.  You rediscover your own culture by experiencing living elsewhere.  Education is the vehicle of how to make the most of the good things from different cultures and how we develop respect of other people.

Charles returned to Hong Kong in 1973 and has spent his career, first at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, until 1987, and latterly at City University Hong Kong to develop distance and continuing education programmes which attract students from across Hong Kong to further develop their potential and opportunities for advancement in their own careers.

At Chinese University, Charles developed distance education programmes, using a range of print, audio and visual media to reach adult learners.  He was using skills he had gained from his time in London completing a Diploma in book and periodical production at the London College of Printing.  He developed a system where he could publish a book in four weeks, particularly at that time, was incredibly fast!

It was at this time that he began to link with other adult educators in through the Asia South Pacific Bureau of Adult Education and then around the world.  In 1984 he was an organizer for the International Symposium of Adult Education in Shanghai with participants from over 20 countries.  This was one of the first events of its kind involving China.

In 1991 he was appointed as the founding head of Centre for Continuing Education at City Polytechnic of Hong Kong.  CityPoly achieved university status is 1995 and Charles was named as the Founding Director of the School for Continuing and Professional Education (SCOPE) at City University of Hong Kong.  This is the post he held until his retirement in June 2012.

To develop SCOPE Charles started from scratch.  As the buildings were all newly purpose built, he designed the teaching facilities with state-of-the-art technologies, including video conferencing, and the working areas for his staff.  At the same time as managing the physical structure, he built an extremely strong administrative and academic team (many who are still there) to manage and teach the growing number of programmes on offer.  And, most importantly, for us, he began to travel the world seeking strong international partners who would be interested in offering their programmes in Hong Kong with the administrative know how and support from SCOPE. 

The Doctor of Education degree or EdD is a ubiquitous degree offered all over the world for senior educators to obtain a doctorate specific to the management of educational systems.   But in the early 1990s this was not the case. 

Charles was on the Education Commission, which is the highest education board in Hong Kong.  It was clear that with the creation of the self-financing sector, there were more institutions and more demand for doctoral qualifications in Education.  Charles came to Bristol 1993 to visit Dr David Oldroyd and learned that the Graduate School of Education was in the process of setting up the very first EdD degree to be offered outside of North America.  And so it was the perfect time for a programme, such as the EdD, to come Hong Kong. 


Charles was keen for Bristol to offer both our MEd and the new EdD in Hong Kong.  This was a major undertaking, for both the Graduate School of Education and for SCOPE.  It is fair to say that Charles is an extremely persuasive man who inspires enthusiasm in others.  He convinced the senior members of the GSoE, that he had the facilities, team and clear ideas about how to market and grow the programmes that in.  The first cohort of MEd students began their degrees in 1994 and in 1997 the first cohort of EdD students began.  Madam Chancellor, both these programmes continue to be very successful and recruit as strongly as ever, inspite of the competition from local institutions.

The partnership between SCOPE and the GSoE is very strong and we have learned to be flexible in how we approach each new challenge (be it a SARs epidemic, or an ash cloud).  In no small part our success is due to Charles’s leadership and the commitment and dedication he has instilled in others.  How Charles found the time to continue his rigorous tennis schedule is unclear.  Nor, how he has managed his regular trips to the US to visit his daughter Tanya in Oregon.  We are delighted to welcome Tanya to the ceremony today.

The work Charles has done as part of the Education Commission has been extremely influential in maintaining distance and continuing education as a mainstream activity for tertiary institutions.  He has worked in other ways to encourage the coordination and collaboration of distance and continuing education.  He was a prime mover and founding Member of the Federation for Continuing Education in Tertiary Institutions in Hong Kong and he also help found the Association for Lifelong Education, in Hong Kong.  His influence extended to working to get all parties to work and agree on a Common Descriptor of the sub-degree programme, encouraging communication and sharing of good practice among fellow institutions.  As part of this work, he has given talks in front of 3,000 parents to explain the introduction of Hong Kong’s new 3-3-4 structure of secondary and tertiary education.

In recognition of his leadership, expertise and influence in the domain of education, the Hong Kong SAR Government awarded Charles the very prestigious Medal of Honour in 2003.  Today we also want to recognise Charles’ vision and commitment to distance education and lifelong learning, which has had such an impact on Bristol’s own educational programmes. 

Madam Chancellor, I present to you Charles Wong as eminently worthy of the Degree of Doctor of Laws, honoris causa.


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