Professor Shek is an accomplished psychologist with over 30 years of experience teaching social work at undergraduate and postgraduate levels. Throughout his impressive career, he has made significant contributions to positive youth development. As the PolyU Associate Vice President (Undergraduate Programme) for a decade, he has been devoted to developing Service-Learning with a view to nurturing well-rounded students. To date, the University has attained two UGC Teaching Awards from the University Grants Committee, a Teaching and Learning Strategy Award from Times Higher Education Awards Asia, and several QS Reimagine Education Awards, commonly regarded as the “Oscars in Education”.

As someone who has always been passionate about teaching, we would like to have your insights in your role as Vice President (Undergraduate Programme) into the University’s future development of undergraduate programmes e.g., objectives, strategies and initiatives.

The world is changing rapidly and there are many new developments in teaching and learning, such as the use of artificial intelligence and augmented and virtual reality. Hence, the Undergraduate Programme, particularly the General University Requirements (GUR), strives to provide a holistic education to PolyU students that is responsive to such changes. Our objectives in the next few years are to consolidate the undergraduate programmes and to provide more interdisciplinary choices for PolyU students. Additionally, more non-local learning opportunities through creditbearing Service-Learning (SL) and Cluster-Area Requirements (CAR) subjects will be provided.


In 2027/28, 60% of the non-local learning opportunities for undergraduate students will be provided by SL and CAR subjects. Responding to technological advances, we will develop more online teaching and learning initiatives for undergraduate students. Responsive policies and appropriate use of generative AI tools within PolyU will also be sharpened.


In what ways does PolyU education stand out and differentiate itself from that of other universities?

Starting from the 2012/13 academic year, we expanded the GUR to 30 credits. Our GUR has some distinct features. As undergraduate students are leaders of tomorrow and there is a strong need for nurturing 21st-century skills among university students, we have a Leadership Education and Development graduation requirement. We are also the first university in Hong Kong making SL a graduation requirement for all undergraduate students and PolyU has become a centre of SL excellence in Asia.


PolyU places strong emphasis on the importance of evaluation, particularly for SL and Leadership subjects, and our Leadership and SL programmes are well-recognised in the professional and international communities.


As Chair Professor of Applied Social Sciences, and Li and Fung Endowed Professor in Service Leadership Education, could you share some of your recent projects and research expertise with us?

During the three years of COVID-19, I conducted several cross-sectional and longitudinal studies in Mainland China and Hong Kong to better understand the mental health of students, predictors of student mental health, and the effectiveness of online teaching and learning. The studies yielded several interesting findings. First, student mental health problems were prevalent during the pandemic. Second, financial difficulty and COVID-19 related stressors were significant predictors of student mental health during this period. Third, positive psychological attributes such as resilience, emotional competence and life meaning can buffer the negative impact of pandemic stress on student mental health. Fourth, leadership education was able to help promote student well-being during the pandemic. Finally, online Service-Learning is an effective means of promoting leadership, as well as the well-being of service providers and service recipients.


Besides the COVID-related studies, I have collaborated with Dr Janet Leung in the Department of Applied Social Sciences on a project on family resilience in Hong Kong, and with Dr Grace Ngai in the Department of Computing to promote Service-Learning in Hong Kong high schools.


You are a psychologist with research interests in positive youth development, family process, quality of life and spirituality. What are your suggestions for achieving mental wellness?

Some time ago, I was invited by the Positive Education Division of International Positive Psychology Association to share my thoughts on this question. I have outlined “Seven Wisdoms about Life”.


Seven Wisdoms About Life
  1. Everybody can thrive (and shine)

  2. Focus on “being" instead of “ranking”

  3. Men shall not live by bread alone – spiritual values are the cornerstones of human existence

  4. Look at the bright side of adversity

  5. Appreciate oneself, others and life

  6. Nurture one’s competence, character and care (3Cs)

  7. Serve to learn and learn to serve


What advice would you give to young people?

The Confucian notion of “self-cultivation” is the key to a fulfilled life: nurture one’s values and virtues; find meaning in life; acquire a moral compass that distinguishes “right” from “wrong”; do the “right” things instead of simply doing things “right”; Before asking “what can I do?” ask the question “who am I?”


Do you have a motto that you live by?

Always have faith (upholding cardinal beliefs), hope (maintaining a positive outlook) and love (caring for others) in life.


What are your hobbies?

In my spare time, I enjoy playing guitar and singing hymns and folk songs. I also regularly hike and I used to play table tennis.