Prof. Peter Hills’s Letter

Some Reflections on the M.Sc. in Environmental Management Programme

It is sometimes hard to imagine that almost 25 years have passed since I was first involved in developing the M.Sc.programme. Work on designing the programme actually commenced in 1986 after the University Grants Committee informed the University that it would welcome proposals for new academic programmes in the environmental field to strengthen local human resource capabilities in this area. A Working Party was set up with members drawn from various faculties and departments. I worked closely with Brian Morton and John Hodgkiss to develop the initial programme structure and curriculum. Later on I took over as Chair of the Steering Group charged with overseeing the introduction of the M.Sc. and after that I became the first coordinator with John as the deputy. Despite our different academic backgrounds, John and I worked together very effectively and one of my lasting impressions of this period is just how committed everyone was to making the programme a success and how important the idea of an interdisciplinary perspective on environmental management was to all of us. Developing interdisciplinary activities at HKU has never been easy due to the rigid structure of our faculty-based system. Nonetheless, the M.Sc. still stands out as a great success and demonstrates that this kind of initiative can work with the appropriate people and level of commitment. I think that one other factor also helped: my former centre (the Centre of Urban Studies and Urban Planning, later known as the Centre of Urban Planning and Environmental Management) was centrally involved in the M.Sc. from the very beginning. As a small, non-faculty unit we were able to engage with colleagues from across the University without being regarded as advancing a particular faculty view or interests. In 1989 Bill Barron joined the Centre and played a key role in the M.Sc. for many years including taking on the role as coordinator and he helped to reinforce the interdisciplinary perspective. The Kadoorie Institute has continued this tradition of involvement with a predominantly new group of young academics contributing to the programme.

The commitment to an interdisciplinary approach has always been a distinguishing feature of the programme. But so too has our concern with management. It was never intended to be a programme about environmental science, or studies, or technology. The objective of integrating scientific, technical and policy aspects of the environment has always helped us retain a clear focus on the key management dimension. Of course, the programme has evolved and developed in response to new and emerging themes and issues. Soon after it was launched we started to introduce discussion of sustainable development. More recently we have incorporated coverage of climate change issues. The programme has never been static or set in stone. The teachers involved in the programme have changed over the years and have shaped individual courses around their own particular areas of interest and expertise.This has helped to maintain vitality and dynamism in the programme. However, the basic structure of the programme has changed relatively little since its inception. I like to think this is because we were on target at the beginning and although there have been some adjustments over the years the present programme would still seem familiar to our earliest students.

Over the years we have graduated around 700 students, many of whom still work in Hong Kong and now occupy senior positions in government, the private sector and academia. The programme itself successfully navigated the transition from government-subsidized to self-financing status some years ago. It remains a distinctive and attractive option for graduate students interested in the environmental field. I am confident we will be celebrating its 30th anniversary in the not too distant future!