Our guest in this episode is Professor Fu Hualing, Dean of the Faculty of Law at the University of Hong Kong. Hualing reflects on his academic journey from Mainland China to Hong Kong, via years of study and research in Canada, and talks about the responsibilities and challenges of his role at HKU. He speaks with our Senior Partner Colin Cohen.
Host: Colin Cohen
Director: Niall Donnelly
Producer and VO: Thomas Latter
[00:00:34] Colin Cohen: Hualing it's a privilege and an honour to welcome you to Law & More. I always ask our guests, the first question I ask everyone is, what's been keeping you busy recently?
[00:00:45] Fu Hualing: Well I spent most of the time dealing with student matters in recent days. We have a few thousand plus students. There are always issues that come to my desk and have to deal with them.
[00:00:58] Colin Cohen: And of course just for our listeners, you are the Dean of the Law Faculty at Hong Kong University. Just to remind our listeners, I was a lecturer between 1983 and 1988, and I lectured for the PCLL. In my time, we had 90 students on the PCLL and maybe in the whole faculty.
Overall, there was probably about 200, 300 at that time, but it was growing as well. So before I get onto your distinguished career, academic career. Tell us a little bit about your background, your upbringing. Obviously in China and how you ended up here in Hong Kong.
[00:01:33] Fu Hualing: Right, I came from a very small place in Hunan Province. A place probably you couldn't find it on the map. I grew up in a countryside and I went to law school in China when China opened for higher education.
I spent as a four year program. I stayed in the same law school sort teaching there as a, as a ta. Then I went to Canada to study.
[00:01:59] Colin Cohen: Let me just just a little bit further, what made you, you are in a small place, what made you look, go into the law?
What was your interest?
[00:02:07] Fu Hualing: I honestly, I was too young to understand what law was about.
So basically the choices were limited, right? You've filled the space you apply law was my number four, number five choice. We are not to make five choices, so I didn't know anything, what what law is about. My family didn't know anything, it was about especially the point is go to a university to study regardless of what you will be studying, it's a secondary issue.
[00:02:39] Colin Cohen: Did you ever practice law in China
[00:02:42] Fu Hualing: I did little bit. After I graduated from law school, there was a law firm attached to the law school, so I practiced tiny little bit in Colombo
[00:02:51] Colin Cohen: What took you then into Canada? What made you leave China and go to Canada?
[00:02:55] Fu Hualing: it was fashionable for Law Graduate, back then. To study overseas, right? Mostly on scholarship. So the university sent out the information. Each year there were one or two opportunities. You apply, you pass the English test it's really ranked according to your ability to pass [TEFL].
[00:03:18] Colin Cohen: Went to Canada, you distinguished yourself in a doctor of jurisprudence Osgoode Hall, that's University of Toronto. And 1993. Did you enjoy Canada in Toronto at that time?
[00:03:28] Fu Hualing: Very much, Yeah. So I missed a cold Christmas, and I stayed there for seven, eight years. I did my master's degree in criminology and then decide to stay in Canada for another degree. So, I went to Osgoode Hall, did my doctorate degree.
[00:03:47] Colin Cohen: I'm fascinated, cause a lot of my work is complex commercial crime and I was always interested in that area. Your interest in getting into criminology, was there anything in particular?
[00:03:56] Fu Hualing: Yeah, I'm a crime person. I mean, when I started, I'm interested in crime psychology. I taught criminal law when I first arrived in Hong Kong. Then Article 23 of the basic law became the issue. So from that point onward, it's national security, anti-terrorism, so on and so forth.
[00:04:17] Colin Cohen: Very, very interesting areas. What actually made you come to Hong Kong. Actually 1997 was the handover area. That's when you arrived in Hong Kong as a lecturer at HKU.
[00:04:27] Fu Hualing: I first went to the City University Law School, right?
So I finished my degrees in Canada. I was struggling what I should do with my life. Either to be a lawyer in Canada or doing something else. At that point I saw the core application from the City University Law School. I think at that time they are setting up the second law school prepare for the transition.
So I said in my CV, I'm a little bit tired to be a student in Canada. And then within a week or two basically, they said we're going to have an interview with you. And then they send me the offer, it's just an offer that I couldn't resist.
[00:05:11] Colin Cohen: HKU took you.
[00:05:12] Fu Hualing: Right, after four years. So that is the City U tradition as many of us would join HKU after a few years.
[00:05:21] Colin Cohen: And when you started off in HKU, what subjects did you teach?
[00:05:25] Fu Hualing: I taught criminology actually, That's the first course I taught at HKU. I taught little bit on criminal law and introduction to Chinese law.
[00:05:35] Colin Cohen: Did you enjoy yourself in those early days?
[00:05:38] Fu Hualing: Very much, yes. People were very kind. People I enjoyed working with.
[00:05:42] Colin Cohen: When I was there teaching, it was a nice place to work because it was congenial. People talk things. We were lucky cuz the students were very few so we could recognise all their names.
When you've got class of 300, it is much more difficult. So you enjoyed yourself and then you worked your way up. You became head of the law department for a few years, or three years in 2008. How did that come about?
[00:06:05] Fu Hualing: In the faculty, we had this tradition, a person who is promoted to professorship would have to serve administratively. So I step up, then Johannes was the Dean. Basically, I tried to hide behind him. He was very kind and helpful.
[00:06:23] Colin Cohen: So you were also associate dean between 2014 to 2019. Johannes was the Dean for part of that time before Michael Hor became the dean, if my memory is correct.
[00:06:34] Fu Hualing: No, I think I became associate Dean under Michael.
[00:06:38] Colin Cohen: Under Michael. Oh, Michael. Yeah. But he was Dean when you were head of the Law Department.
[00:06:42] Fu Hualing: Yes.
[00:06:42] Colin Cohen: How much of your time is spent doing administration, and how much of it is spent teaching and writing
[00:06:50] Fu Hualing: Well right, good question. So we have three component for every faculty member. We all have to contribute to the management of the faculty.
So as head of department, I taught one or two courses, I have to publish, important aspect of academic life.
[00:07:09] Colin Cohen: I recollect when I was lecturing, I was on the PCLL department, and because we were the PCLL teaching on the professional course. We were meant to be one third teaching, one third administration, one third research but for we research on publications when you're on the PCLL, got pushed on one side because we are doing far, far more teaching, on the teaching hours as well. I presume that's still quite similar or not?
[00:07:33] Fu Hualing: I think for PCLL remains the same. On the law side, things has changed a lot. So we we're pushed to publish more high quality journals, and we have reduced the teaching load for colleagues in the law department.
[00:07:49] Colin Cohen: The post of Dean, originally, it's always been interesting as to whether the Dean is elected by the staff members or whether appointed by the Vice Chancellor. What was the position now?
[00:07:59] Fu Hualing: It's a consulted, appointed, by the council at the recommendation of the Vice Chancellor and the president.
[00:08:07] Colin Cohen: So I remember very much working very closely with Michael Hor. This really is because our firm and the university have a very good connection. Boase, and Collins and HKU criminal law lecture with eminent speakers each year to enhance the relationship between the University and the profession. And then when you became Dean, it was very good to see you participating and taking over. How do you position your role as a Dean and with the profession?
[00:08:35] Fu Hualing: Well, we are a professional school. That is our identity. We are part of the Hong Kong Legal Community. Of course we are an academic institution but at the end of the day, we're a professional school. What is unique about small jurisdictions like Hong Kong and a single for that matter, is we don't have that many Law Schools. So HKU has this historical responsibility to train the vast majority of Lawyers. And they will become judges and prosecutors, So it's very important and far more important in Hong Kong than anywhere else, that we have this professional responsibility to train good lawyers and eventually prosecutors and judges.
[00:09:20] Colin Cohen: Perhaps for our listeners, could you explain what your role as Dean is in Hong Kong U? You maybe different from the Deans in other universities, but for your role as Dean here in Hong Kong.
[00:09:31] Fu Hualing: Right. So we're quite different if we compare with, say, US law schools. We don't really have a heavy responsibility or a public university well funded by the government.
So my job as Dean is the liaison with the University Central Administration, communicate with the provost, the president and the management of the faculty. Currently there are two major responsibilities. One is the faculty, the second is to manage the students. Provide high quality education and good communication with students.
[00:10:10] Colin Cohen: Obviously, having regard to what has happened over the past few years in 2018-19, and then with the pandemic. Has that made life a little bit more difficult to recruit for top academics that come to Hong Kong?
[00:10:24] Fu Hualing: Yes, it has been a challenging excise. We are doing reasonably well. Part of difficulty is travel, right? People who start their career would want to know what Hong Kong looks like. In the past three years, was not possible for them to have any site visit. So we're basically delaying the hiring process.
So once the border opens, potential candidates would have the opportunity to come to Hong Kong, to look at the, places, the buildings, students, and the quarters, and then make their decisions.
[00:11:01] Colin Cohen: Course, I mean, HKU Law faculty does have a good reputation worldwide. it's high up in the standings of law schools and it's always maintained that level. I presume one of your task is to maintain those high, high standards.
[00:11:15] Fu Hualing: Yes, there are two ways to think about that. One is of course, their rankings, right? not that important, but then also they are the benchmarks. There are communities, parents, students would would look out ranking when they make their decisions. So we have to make sure that we stay where we are in our ranking. We are around 20 globally, so we're quite happy about that.
[00:11:41] Colin Cohen: 20th globally compared to all the other law schools. Eminent law schools in Oxford, Cambridge, UK, Australia, the USA. I mean, that's a very high ranking.
[00:11:51] Fu Hualing: So that has been quite consistent. And, the second of course is we provide high quality teaching and learning experiences for our students. That is also very important. That is a bit invisible, but then the experience of students, of course, is quite important to us.
[00:12:10] Colin Cohen: Attracting good students to go and apply to do law. The statistics are quite clear, obviously during 2018-19 with the troubles, there was decline in people wanting to do law. But I understand from my sources, which are very reliable sources, my friends, that that has increased. Now people are back saying yes, they want to come back and do law.
How did you encourage that? Cause it was difficult times for university. You can't hide away from that.
[00:12:35] Fu Hualing: Right. In 2019-20, we did experience some difficulties. There are lots of reasons, right? One is the size of high school students, the number has declined. Is a matter of demography. And the second, there are more students who are willing to study law outside of Hong Kong.
In UK in particular, what we have done is we reach out to schools. Try to persuade students to join us. We develop very good outreach program. We have excellent open days. Through the efforts of the admissions team. We are able attract our students back to HKU. We did quite well last year in particular.
[00:13:20] Colin Cohen: The area which I'm very interested in is obviously the PCLL. Now for our listeners, that is the post-graduate certificate in laws. Here in Hong Kong, to become a lawyer, you do your four years. Then to practice, you do the professional exams as well. There's the PCLL courses are run by the three institutions.
problem which has been facing everyone. Is that a lot of Hong Kong students, go overseas to do their law degree because either they could not get into HKU or they just wanted to go there. And then when they come back here to find a place on the PCLL, has never been that easy cuz there's certain government numbers cause the government funds And therefore, the law society, taking the view that there should be the opportunity for everyone to do a professional exams. Perhaps set up their own a course, which they can go Now, what is your answer to ensure that, let's say if a student wants to come back to Hong Kong and get professional training. The answer is we'll have more people, more spaces at the institution doing the course.
[00:14:22] Fu Hualing: Well, the university's answer to it is, we have the capacity to expand the PCLL program. Given the history of PCLL in Hong Kong our position has always been that we can work with the Law Society very closely. As a matter of fact, there are qualified students, who want to be a lawyer, but for one reason or another couldn't get into the PCLL program. I mean, we couldn't look into our program very seriously closely. We have capacity, so our presentation has always been there's no need for the law society to create a additional program.
[00:15:04] Colin Cohen: I have to say this, from my experience, I've been an honorary lecturer at HKU for many years. I seem to appointed, I might be doing something right to reappointed every three years.
I'm an external examiner I've been to the meetings there. I have seen a considerable improvement in the quality of the PCLL courses. And the hard work done by the teachers. Not only at HKU but the other universities, a far more intricate course to give them the good grounding, to become good lawyers.
So if I'm gonna recruit trainee solicitors, there's two things I look at is A, their first degrees, where they've done their degrees, HKU, which I all the other universities. And then I look at the quality of the PCLL and what they've done. And if it's gonna be another course, I'm gonna have to think very carefully to make sure the alternative way into the profession does offer the proper training. So, I do take your point.
[00:15:55] Fu Hualing: Right. I think University does a very good job, to the young graduates. In Hong Kong for example, the vast majority of the law firms would not be able to offer solid trainings as we do. So, I think would be to the benefit of Hong Kong's legal system, the larger legal community, If the university couldn't maintain the program and continue to train lawyers after they graduate from law school.
[00:16:25] Colin Cohen: Moving a little away from that discussion. I'm amazed as to the amount of research and books churn out, and especially recently, human rights lawing in China. Implications for political and legal reform. Your writing on the National security law. Your publishing all the time. Do you get any sleep?
[00:16:45] Fu Hualing: Well, we do have 24 hours every day. It's collective research. What I do is, I love to gather a team of people, share the research experience and write together. So you know, it's fun.
[00:16:59] Colin Cohen: And Professor Michael Hor, and yourself are doing this on national security law, which I'm interested in. That must be a really interesting topic.
[00:17:07] Fu Hualing: When the National Security law was promulgated a couple of years ago, we start to look into it. It's new, it's challenging, and we start to have seminars after two years, so we produce the book.
[00:17:19] Colin Cohen: And helped your students. Cause they all have to do the course.
[00:17:22] Fu Hualing: It's used as a textbook students who who are interested in that matter.
[00:17:26] Colin Cohen: Another era I'm interested in is that disruption caused by Covid 19. And that had a huge impact, I think, upon the teaching at the University in particular the students. As being an external examiner, I think I mentioned at one of the meetings. Because for one year or two years, everything was online. I felt the results were slightly not as good as they were. And in particular, more students who needed help, who needed face to face contact, suffered much more than the very bright students as well. I believe everything is opening up you're coming back to normality.
[00:17:59] Fu Hualing: Yeah, we are turning the pages so to speak. So I was joking this year at the opening day that we have double admissions year one and year three they came back to campus for the first time. So they're quite excited. We have done our first in person only conference. Our visiting professors are coming back, so we're quite excited about that and looking forward to the future.
[00:18:25] Colin Cohen: Cause part of my job as external examiner is to go up and monitor. And I do that. And the face-to-face tutorials in my view, are the most important way to get the students talking, thinking, and getting them into analytical their minds to work and to know how to become lawyers.
And also with our law lecture between the our firms and the university. Last one, Ken McDonald, and it was well attended, but it was great to have the chief Justice all in person at the university. Everyone there and it was full up. All seats were taken.
[00:18:59] Fu Hualing: A full house, yes.
[00:19:00] Colin Cohen: And that was good. I really felt that was tremendous for both everybody. University life is coming back to what it was. Challenges for the future, for your future as Dean, where do you see those going for your position?
[00:19:12] Fu Hualing: Well, on the agenda is now we are back to face to face teaching. There's danger that we missed in-person teaching so much that we're ready to abandon some of the good things of Zoom teaching. So I want to keep part of it going forward, right? It has its own beauty. right? So I hope we don't just abandon Zoom entirety. We continue to reach out to invite people back to Hong Kong to look at what we do, because it's important. We're a small jurisdiction. If we don't maintain external contact, people will start to forget us. We're part of the larger, common law universe. We cannot run away from that.
[00:19:53] Colin Cohen: And of course one of your main experiences is your considerable experience of law schools in the mainland and in particular the area with the Greater Bay Area and how HKU is going to work with mainland universities exchange of students. is that something that you are busy promoting?
[00:20:10] Fu Hualing: it's really part of our strength at HKU. It's a very close partnership with law schools in the Mainland, in Beijing and Shanghai in particular. Unfortunately, we have to stop those exchange programs in the past three years due to Covid. Good news is, we're going back to Shanghai. I think next year we just received first invitation in three years that we have a winter school in Shanghai. We send about 40 students spend two weeks, and we have a summer school also in Shanghai to study Chinese law taught in Chinese by, by men and professors.
So students are very excited about that. So the opportunity to go back to the mainland to experience the Chinese legal system in person firsthand. Of course the greater Bay is a bigger concept. We've been talking about that a lot, but then due to Covid we haven't been able to do that much.
[00:21:06] Colin Cohen: I always ask all my guests this. Hong Kong is famous for its resilience, the Rule of Law is still there. Despite all the tensions that we're having. How do you feel things moving forward, for your views of Hong Kong?
[00:21:21] Fu Hualing: Well, Rule of Law is in our DNA, right? The rights, the freedom under our judiciary independence. That gives student the confidence. The hope to come to law school to study law. Always the question from parents and students, right? What's the future to study law, I always tell them this, bright future. Think about the potential in Greater Bay, the need for talented lawyers. Hong Kong being the International Center. Law is a central piece of everything. So I think that it's important for us to craft a message and send out the message effectively in Hong Kong and outside of Hong Kong.
[00:22:02] Colin Cohen: And finally, your plans for the future. Been in Hong Kong a long time. Not long as I have, but a very, very long planning to stay?
[00:22:10] Fu Hualing: I always stay in Hong Kong. I'm reaching my retirement age in next few years, but Hong Kong is such a beautiful place, I will definitely stay in Hong Kong.
[00:22:19] Colin Cohen: Hualing, privilege, thank you so much for joining us on Law & More, thank.
[00:22:24] Fu Hualing: Thank you.