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The life and philanthropy of Hoi Tung, one of Oriel College’s most generous benefactors

We are delighted to announce that Hoi Tung (1991, Engineering) has gifted £1 million to endow the Fellowship in Mechanical Engineering at Oriel College, Oxford, and sponsor a bookshelf in the Library.

Lord Mendoza CBE, Provost of Oriel College, was in Hong Kong in March to thank Tung for his donation to College. He says he is grateful to Tung for supporting Oriel’s mission to deliver excellent teaching and research. “Hoi’s very significant generous gift underpins an important post at our college. His funding benefits our entire community.”

A humble man, Tung attributes his success to luck and God. “I am immensely fortunate and very blessed,” he says. “Philanthropy is a positive trait in both Eastern and Western culture. Now that I am able, I would like to help out and give back.”

Tung’s family, originally from Wenzhou in China, relocated to Hong Kong in 1988 when he was seventeen-years-old. His parents made significant sacrifices to provide their children with better opportunities: “My father was a highly regarded maths teacher. He is probably smarter than me. But he made the move to Hong Kong for his family. It was not easy.”

Tung was among three students at his private Catholic school in Hong Kong who applied to Oxbridge, two went to Cambridge but Hoi was the only one accepted into Oxford. “Oxford is the dream university. The tutorial system offering one-to-one private lessons with leading academics was really appealing to us.”

Tung was almost prevented from accepting an unconditional offer from Oriel College because of financial hardship. “I was pretty desperate. I was good academically, but my family couldn’t afford to send me,” he explains.

Fortunately, his mentor at high school knew the philanthropist, art collector and entrepreneur Tsui Tsin-Tong, who agreed to sponsor his education.

As a student at Oriel College, Tung enjoyed going for walks around the city centre. He recounts walking around Christ Church Meadow, connecting with the High Street opposite Magdalen College, traversing Longwall Street and Holywell Street, then emerging onto Broad Street outside Blackwell’s.

“I tried to memorise my favourite places, and some days I would do the walk twice,” he says. “Through my walking, particularly in the evening, I was conversing with the ancient spirits, the famous Oxonians of the past. It felt spiritual.”

Tung recalls spending a significant amount of time in the library — “I was an introvert and studying very hard.” A part of Tung’s donation will be used to sponsor a book shelf in the Senior Library.

Unable to travel home during the vacation, Christmas at Oriel College was a special time for Tung. Ernest Nicholson, then Provost, and his wife, Hazel, would invite students to a lunch at the Provost’s Lodgings on Boxing Day. He fondly remembers “Hazel always prepared a sumptuous lunch for us.”

Tung made the most of his time at Oxford, even trying his hand at rowing (“I am embarrassed to mention it, because I wasn’t very good, but spending time on the river was very enjoyable”), and says he enjoyed his interactions with his tutors, Dr Doug Hamilton and Denis Mustafa.

After graduating, Tung had applied to PhD programmes at various universities in the US, receiving offers from several but not the one he was aspiring for: Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). He was ultimately convinced to return to China by a friend and apply for a management consulting vacancy at McKinsey.

Across various roles, Tung has helped multinational companies invest in China while it has undergone rapid economic growth. “I studied engineering, but the fundamentals of finance are effectively the same. You need to be rational, you need to strategise and you need to be a critical thinker. These were all things that I was taught at Oriel,” he adds.

Tung has sustained a strong connection to Oriel College and credits studying here as being the most formative experience of his life. He thinks alumni should help however they can.

“In order to help the next generation of students prosper and flourish, there is a lot we can do,” he explains. “I think everyone should try their best to give back to College in whatever way they can.

“At the end of the day, what is the purpose of education?” he continues. “The beauty of an Oxford education is that it teaches you to think critically, the ability to innovate.

“Education helps you to think out of the box and develop new ideas. These are things that really matter.”

In addition to his financial contribution, Tung is part of the Provost’s Court, the Raleigh Society and an active member of the Oriel Campaign Board.

Engineering has existed as a subject at Oxford for 100 years, and at Oriel College for about 50. Our current Fellow and Tutor in Engineering Science, Dr John Huber, has been here since 2005. “In Oxford terms, mechanical engineering is relatively new, so it is particularly encouraging to have an endowment that makes the subject permanent,” he says.

Huber’s research is in the mechanics of materials. His research group is concerned with the question of how to understand the materials from which everything is made. His research looks to understanding what is useful about those materials (for example, strength) but also what goes wrong (for example, failure, fatigue and corrosion).

Huber’s research group are especially interested in materials with exciting or unexpected properties — such as those that can change shape on demand, others which can redirect or suppress sound waves.

Huber adds: “Having the Fellowship endowed gives me and the College great confidence that we can continue teaching the engineers of the future and researching in a rapidly developing subject area which always has new and exciting frontiers. This is my dream vocation and I am so happy to be here!”