Home > UGC Publications > Speeches and Articles > 2000 > Chairman UGC, Dr Alice Lam's letter to Hong Kong (2.9.2000)

Letter to Hong Kong

(English translation)

Dr Alice Lam,Chairman, University Grants Committee
on Radio Hong Kong, 2nd September 2000.

Dear Patricia,

In 1996, when I retired from the banking industry, I was hoping to have more time for calligraphy and reading. However, since I took up the chairmanship of the University Grants Committee eighteen months ago the leisure of retirement has escaped me. I became busy once again. At the helm of the UGC, I had to stay in Hong Kong for the past two summer and New Year holidays working, and was unable to spend the long vacation with you and Andrew. I know you will understand. After this summer, I hope to have time to come to see you two.

I have just finished the 'marathon' of UGC August 2000 meetings which lasted for seven consecutive days. Many important issues relating to higher education in Hong Kong were discussed at the meetings. These issues impact on the development of our tertiary institutions and has significant bearing on the long-term interest of Hong Kong. One of the most crucial tasks for the August meetings was the formulation of preliminary proposals for the funding requirements and academic development of the UGC-funded institutions for the 2001-2004 triennium. To achieve a fair and reasonable distribution of this enormous sum of public money amounting to tens of billions is by no means easy, and the pressure on me as Chairman of UGC is very heavy indeed.

Of course, I was not the only busy person during the UGC meetings. All the UGC members took active part in the work of the UGC. In sub-committees or working groups they zealously worked on important matters such as higher education for medical and health-care, quality assurance, teacher education, institutional development, resource allocation etc. These some 20 UGC members comprise distinguished local academics and community leaders and well-known scholars from top universities and institutions from all over the world. It is, indeed, a blessing for Hong Kong to have this top-notch group of individuals willing to find time to attend UGC meetings in Hong Kong three times a year, to help plan the development of higher education in Hong Kong and directly take part in various programmes spearheaded by the UGC to enhance teaching and research qualities of our institutions. In addition, the UGC Secretariat worked hard to prepare before the meeting and is even busier after the meeting in follow-up work. I am most impressed with their dedication and efficiency. During the August meetings, the UGC also met with the Secretary for Education and Manpower, Chairman of the Education Commission and the Director of Education to discuss strategic education issues. All in all, everyone worked tirelessly, trying to make the best use of every minute during the week. As the Chairman I probably did not work the hardest but I had to be everywhere at the same time. In short, it was even tougher than when I had to work for a living in the bank.

You probably have read in the UK newspapers about Hong Kong's higher education recently. This incident has demonstrated the importance Hong Kong people attach to academic freedom and institutional autonomy. It may not be obvious to everybody but the existence of the UGC and its mode of operation are exactly to protect these two principles.

The UGC is not a Government department. Although its members are all appointed by the Government, none of them is a civil servant. Rather, they are eminent community leaders or accomplished scholars of international renown. Furthermore, half of them come from all over the world. Their devotion to the principles of academic freedom is very firm and will not be compromised. The UGC is established as a buffer between the Government and the institutions. It ensures that the funding mechanism is fair, just, accountable to the public and immune to any undue outside influence. The grants are given to each of the institutions in one lump sum so that the institutions can use the funds flexibly according to their own needs, subject only to the academic development proposals which were endorsed by the UGC beforehand. Specifically, the grants were allocated to the institutions on a three-year, or triennial, basis in advance. The intention is to guarantee predictability and stability in financial and human resources, so as to preclude interference from outside sources.

When I am handling matters relating to the eight UGC-funded institutions, I cannot help but imagine the UGC as a mother of eight children, each child having his or her own personality, aspirations and needs. It is, of course, a mother's goal to keep her children healthy and happy and allow them to develop their own character and abilities. Bringing up you, your sister and your brother was hard enough. Now we are talking about eight at the same time! Nevertheless, when my colleagues and I see our institutions' outstanding research and academic achievements are recognized internationally and our students are studying in an excellent learning environment or serving our community well after graduation, we all share a great sense of achievements and pride that the higher education in Hong Kong is bustling with life.

My beloved daughter, the hot summer will soon be behind us. The cooler season will come soon. Take good care of yourself and keep warm.

Your Mom
2nd September 2000