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Chairman's Speech at the Launching Ceremony of the 75th Anniversary Celebrations of The Hong Kong Polytechnic University

Launching Ceremony of the 75th Anniversary Celebrations
The Hong Kong Polytechnic University
17 November 2011

Speech by Mr Edward CHENG
Chairman, UGC

The Honorable Marjorie Yang, Professor Tong, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen,

It is my great pleasure to celebrate PolyU's 75th anniversary with colleagues from the university and the friends of PolyU. To me, this is not only a festive occasion. As Marjorie said, this is also my first "public" appearance since I took up the UGC Chairmanship in September, and, more importantly, a homecoming which I have been expecting with great anticipation, as I had been a member of the University Council in 2006-2009.

Achievements of PolyU

In the three years at PolyU, I have come to learn about the university in a way that few outsiders can. I have learnt how much the success of the university has been derived from its clear vision "To learn and to apply, for the benefit of mankind". This is precisely one of the important purposes of higher education, and the determination of PolyU to live up to its mission has earned respect and support from the community. I was particularly proud to see in 2006 the designation of PolyU as a collaborative research partner for the 2008 Beijing Olympics by the Chinese Olympic Committee. It must be a moment of national pride for our experts from PolyU to help prepare athletes for the Beijing Olympic Games.

PolyU does not only reach out to the Mainland, it can go as far as the space. It has established strong links with the national and overseas space authorities, and its projects range from the making of sophisticated space tools to the monitoring of the health of astronauts. PolyU has clearly proven that practical dreamers can go far and high.

Opportunities for Hong Kong

This is truly an exciting time not only for PolyU but also for the higher education sector in Hong Kong. With the seeds for success laid down by our institutions, including PolyU, we are proud to see our higher education sector has made considerable accomplishments that have gained international recognition. To build on this success, the Government has invested an extra year of education for our undergraduates by implementing the new four-year programme starting in 2012. This new milestone in the higher education sector, coupled with the rise of Asia and China in particular, has given our institutions valuable impetus for further development and reaching out.

To prepare students for the exciting future lying ahead, our institutions should devote their efforts to cultivate our students to be open-minded individuals who are ready to engage Mainland China while maintaining an international outlook and world vision. Today, I would like to share with you my view on the three themes that our institutions, including PolyU, should focus on for the benefit of our students. They are internationalization; collaboration with the Mainland; and the enhancement of teaching and learning under the new four-year curriculum.


Being a small and externally-oriented economy, Hong Kong has been particularly sensitive, and responsive, to the effects of globalization. We have been an active participant in the international community, and must continue to do so as our future depends on our active engagement with the globalised world which encourages free flow of trade, capital and knowledge. Our universities must provide a platform for students to prepare for that future by exposing students to a multicultural learning and social environment, so that they will be willing and able, and be competitive enough to work effectively in Asia and elsewhere, in Australasia, Europe, America or Africa.

When I first went up to Oxford in 1977, I asked my Warden how I might benefit from my university education there. My Warden's advice was crisp and clear: "learn from your peers," he said. It is vital for our funded institutions to provide a multi-national and diversified environment for students from different cultural background to interact and to learn from each another. Such interaction may also take place outside campus. Our local students should be given the chance to spend sufficient time outside Hong Kong to engage in meaningful overseas study and internship. Such learning experiences can take away the students' inhibition and instill in them open-mindedness, so that when they embark on their life journeys after universities, they will have the intellectual and cultural capacity to embrace challenges in any new environment, to acquire new ideas and to be quick in identifying and capturing new opportunities.

In this context, I would like to pay tribute to PolyU colleagues for their drive to establish and strengthen global links, which include partnerships with more than 560 institutions in over 40 countries and regions. I am also impressed by your determination to expand the horizon of students not only by providing exchange opportunities, but also by creating a more internationalised campus through such worthwhile and effective initiatives as the Innovation and Entrepreneurship Global Student Challenge and the International Week involving various Consular Offices and Chambers of Commerce.

Relationship with the Mainland

The globalisation era also witnesses the growing importance of Asia and Mainland China in particular. In 2010, Asia accounted for 30% of the world GDP, and China became the largest economy in Asia last year. The rapid economic growth in the region creates an exciting future for its higher education.

Hong Kong has long been a principal site for the interface between Asia and the rest of the world, and the emergence of China as a major global actor has accentuated the opportunities for Hong Kong. Due to our close historical, cultural and political ties, Hong Kong is best placed to capitalise on the vast pool of talents and resources in the Mainland. Their insatiable demand for innovation, application and knowledge transfer will be drivers for continual growth. I see great opportunities for those students who are inquisitive and have the urge and the courage to deepen their knowledge about the social and economic developments in the Mainland. Great opportunities are also open to those students who are effective communicators and are conversant in English and Chinese, including Putonghua and Cantonese. A bright future lies ahead for those who contribute to the development of Hong Kong and to our nation.

Tertiary institutions must therefore provide an appropriate environment to strengthen and expand education and research collaboration with, and knowledge transfer in, Mainland China, and the opportunity is now.

To prepare for Hong Kong's evolving relationship with the Mainland China, our students must sharpen their skills in Chinese, including Putonghua. And indeed they must also strive to enhance their English capability so that they can present their ideas and communicate in English effectively, and to stay competitive in the global context.

A more strategic approach

While many institutions can sense the opportunities in the Mainland and elsewhere, the abundance of opportunities also makes it difficult for institutions to make the appropriate choice on how far and where they should go. In this context, I would like to suggest a guiding principle that should apply to all institutions: whatever initiatives that an institution is pursuing, they have to be done with the prime objective to enhance the quality of education for our students. Adherence to this principle will enable institutions to identify the appropriate path for developing relationships with the Mainland and elsewhere.

We have come a long way since we worked on enhancing collaborations with the world and I understand and appreciate that institutions are now adopting a variety of ways for implementation. As the next step to move forward, the UGC and the institutions would need to take stock of the various objectives and initiatives pursued by the institutions individually, and to agree upon common objectives and strategies which will bring results and long-term benefits to the institutions and the general interests of Hong Kong. I look forward to closer cooperation with the institutions in this regard.

Teaching and Learning in the Context of the four-year curriculum

From 2012 onwards, Hong Kong is investing an extra year of education for our undergraduates by implementing the new four-year programme which will provide a balanced education to their students through an integrated undergraduate programme that provides a broader knowledge base to support specialized learning. This gives the institutions an unprecedented opportunity to better prepare their students for the challenges mentioned earlier. The higher education sector is working on an overhaul of the curriculum which will be enriched with general education, training in language skills, multi-disciplinary learning, overseas exposure and even some research experience. Such a fundamental revamp of the academic structure will no doubt bring a lot of challenges to the institutions.

I understand that colleagues from the PolyU have made full preparation for the migration into the new system. The value of your contribution cannot and will not be overlooked. As the Chinese saying goes, 十年樹木,百年樹人 (that is, "it takes ten years to grow a tree, a hundred to educate a man"), the success of our reform is dependent upon our persistent and patient efforts. In our attempt to improve the quality of education to nurture broad-minded students with global vision, we should not be discouraged by the glitches that may emerge in the transitional years. For most of the students, these four years represent the last chance for them to benefit from formal education. The four years provide abundant opportunities for institutions to enhance students' capacity to understand the complexity of knowledge and the world, and to develop the sense of personal and social responsibilities, so that they can develop into thoughtful, confident, self-reliant, adaptable and contributing citizens.

I wish to call upon our fellow faculty members of PolyU to capture this valuable opportunity offered by the 4-year curriculum, to enhance and broaden PolyU's education for the undergraduates, through the renewal and deepening of our pedagogy. While it is a truism that excellent research and creation of new ideas are fundamental qualities of a world-class university, it is the intrinsic responsibility of a university to provide effectiveness and excellence in teaching to our undergraduates, as may be informed by research and innovation.

Role of the UGC

Serving as the "bridge" between the Government and the institutions, the UGC has the privilege to play the role of a facilitator to work closely with both the Government and institutions. It is indeed our duty and honor to work as a partner of the institutions in this exciting phase of the education reform. We stand ready to listen to you to understand your challenges and opportunities, and your development strategies and needs, so that we can offer well-informed advice to the government on higher education policies. I look forward to many more opportunities to work in close partnership with institutions with a view to providing the highest possible standard of education in the most cost-effective manner.

Concluding Remarks

Ladies and gentlemen, the future of Hong Kong so much depends on the quality of our graduates, and we are fortunate to have the contribution of PolyU in the past 75 years. On this landmark occasion, I would like to congratulate Marjorie and Prof Tong, PolyU's Council members, staff, students and alumni on their outstanding achievements.

Lastly, I would like to wish PolyU every success in their efforts to nurture future professionals and leaders with an international mindset, a world vision and the readiness to engage the Mainland China; and to develop PolyU into a preferred university for "innovation and application". Thank you.