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Symposium on Knowledge Transfer "Knowledge Transfer in a Knowledge-based Economy"

Room 601, Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre
9:00 am, 12 November 2007 (Monday)

Opening Remarks by Mr Michael V STONE, JP
Secretary-General, University Grants Committee

Distinguished guests and friends,

Thank you so much for joining us today. I am honoured that so many distinguished guests from the higher education institutions, the business sector, and other public bodies have gathered together for this symposium on knowledge transfer.

"If knowledge transfer be the food of love, play on" - as Shakespeare would have said, had he known about the thrill of knowledge transfer. If Shakespeare had been a professor, he would be a very good example of knowledge transfer - and even his intellectual property rights seem quite well established for those days, since he died with a considerable estate.

But perhaps I should begin this symposium by putting the central concept - knowledge transfer - in context. For UGC's purposes, we define knowledge transfer as "the systems and processes by which knowledge, including technology, know-how, expertise and skills are transferred between higher education institutions and society, leading to innovative, profitable or economic or social improvement." The definition is deliberately broad-based so that it is as open and inclusive as possible. It also includes the tacit aspect of knowledge transfer - not limiting ourselves to technology transfer.

Mark Twain noted that a "cauliflower is nothing but a cabbage with a college education". But Friedrich Hayek, the renowned economist considered that knowledge is widely distributed among people and that the challenge to society is to create mechanisms for pooling that knowledge. I think Hong Kong is at a critical juncture. Ours is increasingly a knowledge-based economy, built on the respect for intellectual property which facilitates continuous economic development. The need to identify solutions that will allow Hong Kong higher education institutions and businesses a more abundant flow of discoveries into the marketplace has never been more important. Our ability to remove the barriers that inhibit the transformation of knowledge into products and services that improve the way we live, work, and play will greatly determine the long-term prosperity of Hong Kong.

Higher education institutions are at the heart of our productive capacity. They are powerful drivers of technological and other changes. They have become pillars of economic development. They produce people with knowledge and skills. They generate new knowledge and import it from diverse sources. And they apply knowledge in a range of different environments. They are the seed-bed for new industries, products, and services, and they are at the hub of the business networks and industrial clusters of the knowledge-based economy.

Higher education institutions have been viewed traditionally as creators of knowledge and trainers of young minds. To these established roles we must add a third - knowledge transfer and engagement with the community. In the knowledge-based economy, higher education institutions can be viewed as important as businesses, the one fostering the other.

There is no doubt that the eight UGC-funded institutions have already done a lot in this area. Some of us here maybe wearing glasses prescribed by spin-off companies of our institutions. But knowledge transfer is also a complex process and business. The process of recognizing the potential marketability of ideas and readying them for practical implementation is often not a straight-forward task. Good ideas must first be identified and evaluated. Staff need to have the recognition skills necessary to judge the commercial - or societal - potential within their own research. Legal and technical specialists are needed to secure intellectual property rights. Many discoveries require significant testing and development before they are market-ready.

Research in overseas countries shows that, even in top universities, there are many missed opportunities. For every innovation that makes it to the market, many others may be mired in the depths of bureaucracy in universities or paralyzed by a lack of applied skills and resources, slowly struggling their way to the commercial or social forefront. Many think governments are the champion bureaucrats - some even suggest the UGC has such tendencies. But my experience is that universities are just as bad. But in universities it's called "institutional autonomy". I jest of course.

The message that I want to convey today is that there is scope to do even more on knowledge transfer. We need to reap the full benefits of our investment in higher education, and better recognize the full range of knowledge transfer activities being performed by our institutions, regardless of subject area. More must be done rapidly and efficiently to move knowledge from the halls of academia to the front lines of Hong Kong. Robust knowledge transfer is crucial to research policy and the successful implementation of "3+3+4". It will also help convince the community at large about the value of the institutions and justify the resources dedicated to higher education - no small point.

Our goal is to enable our higher education institutions to spend more time developing opportunity recognition and marketing skills. A part of this is opening up the system and creating a two-way thoroughfare: one in which faculty have the time and are sensitive to looking outwardly at the possibilities, and at the same time private-sector parties who may be interested in faculty's work are able to look inside the higher education institutions and mine the multitude of ideas and discoveries - one of which just may be the missing link needed for a new product that everybody will carry in their pockets in the next decade.

UGC is seeking to facilitate matters on several fronts. This symposium is our first effort to bring higher education institutions, businesses and other related bodies together, and to identify current replicable best practices in knowledge transfer. Despite advancements in technology, the strengthening of social networks still depend on personal interaction - and that is an important reason why we have invited a broad spectrum of interested people together today.

We will also encourage our eight UGC-funded institutions to articulate their strategic plans and visions. Furthermore, we hope to find some new money to support this meaningful purpose.

Being no expert in knowledge transfer, I will defer to the four overseas and two local distinguished speakers in this event to transfer their knowledge on this subject - in their order of appearance, Mr Niels Reimers, Mr Tom Hockaday, Professor Chris Megone, Mr K O Chia, Professor Ching Pak Chung and Dr Kenneth Fong. Thank you for agreeing to share your invaluable knowledge and experience with us today. I must also thank Prof Roland Chin of the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, who is also Chairman of the Research Grants Council, for agreeing to be the moderator for today's Q&A sessions and plenary session. Finally, we greatly appreciate our co-organizers, City University of Hong Kong and the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology for co-organizing this event and providing much needed help to us.

Thank you.