Birmingham in Hong Kong

We're recognising the University's longstanding relationship with Hong Kong, and inviting alumni to share their memories of Birmingham.

Birmingham in Hong Kong logoHong Kong is home to almost 3,000 Birmingham alumni, the biggest concentration of alumni anywhere outside of the UK. Hong Kong really is Birmingham’s second home. Our alumni in Hong Kong have made a vital contribution to its status as ‘Asia’s world city’, impacting all fields and walks of life, from business, the legal profession, to government and religion. Your achievements and upholding of Birmingham’s values and vision has made us proud.

We want to recognise all that you do and achieve. Over the course of 2020 we are collecting stories and asking you to share your memories from your time at Birmingham and to help us find alumni we have lost touch with. Last year we struck the University of Birmingham Hong Kong Medal to recognise those alumni and friends who have made an outstanding contribution to the University or to civic life in Hong Kong. Chief Justice Geoffrey Ma Tao-Li GMB was the first recipient, with our alumni and friends gathering to honour him at special reception last October. 

We are keen to hear from you who we should honour with the Hong Kong Medal in the future, and who from our alumni community we should be celebrating over the course of the year. You can complete an alumni profile on the website, highlighting your achievements, and also honour alumni whose achievements you feel should be recognised (these may be current alumni, or alumni of the past). We'll be profiling some of you online and via email and social media throughout the year. 

Get in touch with your fellow Birmingham graduates by joining the University of Birmingham Alumni Association Hong Kong on Facebook. BUAAHK organise various events including an annual hike and celebration of the University’s founding. All alumni are welcome to take part.

You can view some highlights from select alumni below, and we'll be adding to this page over the course of the year. Finally, make sure to update your contact details to receive all the latest news from campus.

Honour alumni

Tell us about Hong Kong alumni (from the present or the past) who you would like to recognise.


Fighting the Hong Kong housing crisis

Jo Hayes (BA French, 1997) has called Hong Kong home since 2013, and strives to create a world where everyone has a decent place to live.

Jo Hayes, CEO of Habitat for Humanity Hong KongWhat are your fondest memories of your time at Birmingham?

The friends I made at Birmingham are friends for life. I have lived overseas since the day after I finished at Birmingham, so the fact that I have kept such strong bonds with Uni friends, despite always living so far away, is a direct result of the shared experiences. Living in halls in year one played a significant role in creating those bonds with most nights spent talking. Living in a shared house in year two brought laughter and irritation and heaps of learning on how to successfully live with others. Living in France in year three with an entirely new group of friends, gave us all that confidence to embrace adventure and adapt to new surroundings. Living in a shared campus flat in year four, gave me the space and drive to balance hard work with down time. Essential learning for juggling that work-life balance in later years.

Why did you choose your degree? Does it continue to impact on your experiences?

Studying languages and becoming a teacher had always been my dream. I studied French with Italian and Spanish as minor subjects. When I spent my Erasmus year in Poitiers, I met my first husband and the day after my finals I moved to France - and became a teacher! My children are bilingual French-English and whilst I sometime regret not studying business alongside the languages, I don't regret my subject choices and consider my degree as a key part of my life journey.

Describe your current role and organisation

CEO, Habitat for Humanity Hong Kong. I'm responsible for the overall leadership in the development and execution of Habitat for Humanity Hong Kong’s strategy. Habitat for Humanity Hong Kong is an international NGO, whose vision is a world where everyone has a decent place to live. Habitat impacts the lives of millions of families globally, providing strength, stability and self-reliance through shelter. With more than 20 years of professional experience, I have expertise in strategy development, operational management, and multi-stakeholder engagement. I have demonstrable examples of building and leading high-performing teams, managing and mitigating risk, influencing behaviours and mindsets to achieve positive outcomes and applying creative and innovative principles to drive measurable and sustainable change.

What has been the most extraordinary or memorable achievement on the job?

There have been many extraordinary moments! The housing issues in Hong Kong are complex and deep rooted but as we enter a recession, we know that COVID-19 will exacerbate the housing crisis. We also know from our disaster relief, recovery and resilience programmes around the world, the economic impact will be long-lasting and those living in substandard housing will be the hardest hit. Low-income families risk losing their homes and their livelihoods. At Habitat, we want to provide not just emergency relief but long term support to these vulnerable members of the community.

In my first week in the role, Typhoon Mangkut destroyed thousands of lives and homes across the Asia-Pacific region, including Hong Kong. I had to oversee the essential clean up in my first week, whilst building a house in Nepal. In my second week, I took my first step into a public housing estate and met one of our elderly beneficiaries for the first time. I saw first hand that whilst a common misconception in Hong Kong is that public housing is the solution to the housing issues, for those elderly, low-income families, the conditions are sub-standard, the flaking paint falls into their food, the dust enters their lungs, the open windows keeps them cold in the winter and the lack of ventilation means the flats are stifling hot in the summer. Knowing that the work we do makes a difference was a special moment.

Over the last year, I'm proud of leading the organisation through unprecedented change and challenges. My ability to remain resilient dealing with one crisis after another has been, and continues to be, an extraordinary experience. The socio-political unrest, closely followed by COVID-19, has significantly impacted our fundraising efforts and our operations. A sample of some recent achievements I'm proud of includes moving offices to downsize by 50% during the COVID crisis, preparing the team to double the number of families we usually serve in half the time, lobbying government to include the nonprofit sector in their emergency funds and staying consistently calm whilst needing to make one difficult decision after another, day after day for almost a year.

Alumni helping the disadvantaged in Hong Kong

Keeping in touch is more important than ever during a pandemic lockdown. Whether it’s speaking with family, working from home, building your future or keeping up with schoolwork, the right technology can bring the world to us when we can’t go outside.

That’s why the HKBN Group, whose senior management includes alumni Billy Yeung (PG Dip Business Administration, 1987; MBA, 1988) and Adrian Watt (BEng Electronic and Electrical Engineering, 1990), has mobilised to help those in need.

  • To help every customer, many of whom may be facing financial uncertainty, HKBN has provided a free month of broadband
  • Two years of free broadband services has been provided for 10,000 disadvantaged families across Hong Kong
  • To help new graduates who are entering such a difficult job market right now, the HKBN group has launched “#ToughTimesTogether - Career Kickstarter for Graduates”. 100 graduates will receive a three-month learning and career opportunity, to help them build up their experience
  • HKBN is working with care homes to ensure residents can keep in touch with their families through video calls, by providing tablets

University of Birmingham alumnus Billy YeungBilly (pictured) studied his MBA at the University of Birmingham, to support his passion for customer engagement and operational efficiency. Billy is Co-Owner and CEO of HKBN Enterprise Solutions Ltd & JOS Group, Founder & Executive Director of Y5ZONE.

Adrian, Co-Owner, Chief Commercial Officer - Carrier Business and Major Accounts of HKBN Enterprise Solutions Ltd, studied Electronic and Electrical Engineering, graduating in 1990.

In the following video, Billy looks back on his time at Birmingham.

Winning verdict: honouring Geoffrey Ma

The Honourable Chief Justice Geoffrey Ma (LLB Law, 1977) was the inaugural recipient of the University of Birmingham Hong Kong medal. The interview below was first published in 2015.

University of Birmingham alumnus Geoffrey MaWhat do you remember most about your time at Birmingham?

It has been more than 40 years since I started my studies at the University of Birmingham. The lingering memory is the beauty of the University; it must be one of the most beautiful university campuses in the world. It is such a scenic city with so much to explore.

What are your memories of celebrating New Year in Birmingham?

Funnily enough, apart from raiding the Chinese restaurants in the city and eating to excess, I don’t recall much else! Perhaps that is the sum total of what one does during that time.

As an engaged alumnus of the University, what gives you the greatest sense of pleasure?

In recent years, I have been honoured to have been part of the University’s work in reconnecting with its alumni in Hong Kong. The University is not only relevant to the people who happen to be studying there at any given time, it continues to take an interest in all of its students - past, present and future - with a particular interest in the contribution to the community made by alumni. I have always felt a deep sense of belonging to the University of Birmingham and am glad that more alumni now feel the same.

As part of your sustained relationship with the University, you have supported current students. What has your involvement been and what have you enjoyed about this?

In 2014, I attended an event organised by the Birmingham Pass Society at the Hong Kong Bankers Club to give a talk on Judicial Independence. It was really well attended by students, alumni, and distinguished guests such as the former Chairman of the Hong Kong Bar Association. Shortly afterwards, nearly 25 students came to the Court of Final Appeal for a tour of our Court followed by dinner. The students were all serious about their University lives and their future careers, as well as their role within the community. I was impressed with their commitment in assisting current and future students through initiatives such as the mentoring programme.

Read a more in-depth profile of Chief Justice Geoffrey Ma.

Promoting a healthy lifestyle

Entrepreneur Mawin Cheung (MBA Strategy and Procurement Management, 1987) is doing his bit to promote a healthy lifestyle in Hong Kong with his own organic gardening company. This article was first published online in Old Joe in 2016.

Organic farming takes root in Fragrant Harbour

Mawin Cheung in a balcony gardenMore green-fingered citizens of Hong Kong are growing their own herbs and vegetables thanks to inspiration from University alumnus Mawin.

Picture Hong Kong in your mind and you’ll likely think of a bustling metropolis; a centre of modern architecture with more high-rise apartments than any other city in the world. You’re unlikely to think of vegetable plots on those same apartment rooftops.

But those patches of green are becoming increasingly common among the urban landscape as more of the local population turn to organic farming in pursuit of a more healthy and balanced lifestyle.

Former bank executive Mawin Cheung turned promoter of organic gardening in 2012 when he left his job to start Easy Organic Farming, a company that helps organisations and households establish portable organic gardens.

He was first inspired to change career path when he and his wife began growing their own vegetables and enjoyed the process so much, he thought others would as well.

'I want to enable communities in Hong Kong and beyond to have an opportunity to learn more about organic farming and to inspire people to grow their own healthy foods, even when living and working in the city,' he says.

Read the full article from our official alumni magazine Old Joe.

Keeping public transport on time

Since completing his Masters at Birmingham, Frankie Yick (MSc Industrial Management, 1980) has gone on to a varied career in manufacturing, transport logistics and most recently politics, where he has been working to keep Hong Kong’s public transport system as one of the world leaders. A proud graduate of the University, Frankie has hosted events for fellow alumni and continues to stay in touch with friends from his time in the UK.

Alumnus Frankie Yick

Why did you study at Birmingham?

I was initially inspired by my Industrial Engineering Professor during my studies at Hong Kong University – he had graduated from Birmingham. As the second largest city in the UK and a highly industrialised area, studying Industrial Management at Birmingham felt like the right choice for me. The university campus is relatively large and centralised, forming its own community. It is a very nice place at which to study.

What are your memories of your time here?

My classmates and schoolmates were friendly. A group of us studied and worked closely together. That year was one of the best times of my life and I enjoyed very much the friendships I developed there. Even after 35 years, we are still in contact.

Can you outline your career path following university?

I started as an engineer in a multinational toy manufacturing company, continuing to work in the industrial sector for 14 years in various managerial positions. With the opening up of China in the same period, a lot of manufacturing activities started to move to the mainland because of cheap land and labour costs.

I was then recruited by the Wharf Group, a Hong Kong conglomerate as the divisional chief in their transportation arm, running 10 businesses including The Star Ferry, the Hong Kong Tramways, The Cross Harbour Tunnel operations, the construction and management of the Western Harbour Crossing, learner driver training and electronic toll collection systems. In 2006 I started to get involved in logistics with container terminal and air cargo terminal operations. In 2012, I was elected to represent the Transport Functional Constituency in the Legislative Council of the HKSAR.

So I have moved from manufacturing to the service industry and then into politics. I am basically a full time legislator even though I am still a full time employee of the Wharf Group.

How has Hong Kong tackled the unique challenge posed by its transport links in the past, and what are the plans for the future?

Hong Kong’s public transport has been the envy of the world. It is basically all operated by the private sector without government subsidy. The Third Comprehensive Transport Study 15 years ago has set the direction to adopt a mass transit railway system as the back bone of public transport, while other transport modes such as bus, minibus, taxi and ferry services are supplementary services to meet the community’s demand.

More rail lines are now under development to meet the future demand, especially for new housing developments outside the established urban areas. When all these new rail lines are completed, they will cover 70 per cent of the population. Other than the well-developed rail network, the fares on all transport modes are relatively affordable compared to other cities in the developed world. The government is now conducting another strategic study to examine the roles of the supplementary transport modes to see how we can maintain their sustainable development in the next decade.

However, as time changes some of the operating modes, like the ferry services to the outlying islands, will need financial support from the government in order to maintain those services, because of the ever-rising operating cost with limited growth of residents there.

The Hong Kong International Airport has been ranked as the global leader for a number of years and Hong Kong is regarded as one of the major international aviation hubs in the region. With the airport almost up to its capacity, planning for a third runway is now underway, with the goal of commissioning the work for 2023. Hong Kong needs to build on its strength in order to ensure that it is always one step ahead of the competition.

Birmingham students meet Hong Kong alumni

In June 2019, 24 Birmingham students travelled to Hong Kong through the University's Study Abroad programme, and had the opportunity to meet local alumni as part of the visit. They made video diaries of their experiences and what they learned on the trip.

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