Home > UGC Publications > Speeches and Articles > 2011 > Chairman's Speech at The University of Hong Kong Centenary Celebrations: Presidents Summit - "East Meets West: Synergy, Competition or Collaboration"

Chairman's Speech at The University of Hong Kong Centenary Celebrations: Presidents Summit - "East Meets West: Synergy, Competition or Collaboration"

The University of Hong Kong Centenary
Presidents Summit:
"East Meets West: Synergy, Competition or Collaboration"

18 December (Sunday)
Main Building, The University of Hong Kong

The Honorable Michael Suen, Professor Tsui, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen,

It is indeed my pleasure and honour to be speaking here today at the Presidents Summit organised by the University of Hong Kong. First of all, let me extend a warm welcome to the heads of universities from different parts of the world and I hope your stay in Hong Kong will be an enjoyable and fruitful one.

As we gather at this Presidents Summit, we do not only engage in intellectual debate, we also come to celebrate the Centenary of the University of Hong Kong. The University has chosen an extremely relevant and meaningful way to celebrate its 100th anniversary by organising this Summit. Given its century-long history of bringing together the East and the West, the University of Hong Kong is well placed to inspire fruitful and enlightening discussion on the important topic of "East meets West".

"East Meets West" has been taking place for centuries in many different areas over trade, civilization, ideas and education. Cross-cultural interactions have been vital to the progress of mankind, as they bring and inspire new knowledge, new idea, new insights and innovation. Higher education institutions indeed have an important role to play in leading and enhancing such interactions.

Importance of Higher Education in a Globalised World

Robust higher education has been recognised as an engine for growth in today's knowledge-intensive economies around the world, as the success of these economies so much depend on the complex skills, agility and creativity of the population, as well as the society's capacity for innovation. In the process of rapid globalisation, higher education institutions have the function and the duty to nurture globally competitive students equipped with the capacity to cope with the challenges of a much more dynamic future. Globalisation has also provided impetus for the growth of these institutions, as the options and opportunities are no longer constrained by geographical boundaries. This trend opens up substantial room for the further development of the higher education institutions.

The spectacular growth of many economies in Asia, China in particular, over the past few decades has amazed the world, and has evoked keen interests in the economic, cultural and political developments in this region. In 2010, Asia accounted for 30% of the world GDP, and China became the largest economy in Asia. Such economic growth does not only attract the world's attention, it also enables the Asian economies to accumulate human capital by investing in the higher education. It would be reasonable to expect the economic dynamism in Asia will be followed by equally impressive development in higher education.

Higher Education in Hong Kong

21st Century is an exciting time for Hong Kong, as the rapid growth in the region creates a promising future for Hong Kong's higher education sector. Hong Kong has long been a principal site for the interface between Asia and the rest of the world, and history has given Hong Kong a deeply embedded character as an international centre and a point of encounter between different cultures and way of thoughts. With this unique advantage, Hong Kong as a whole has the capability to respond quickly and positively to the "East meets West" opportunities.

Hong Kong has been well known as a major metropolis. But our position as a regional Education Hub which houses many top universities of the region has been the best kept secret. According to the Times Higher Education, Hong Kong ranks first in terms of the number of top 200 universities relative to its GDP. The performance of the University of Hong Kong has been particularly impressive, as it was ranked number 1 in Asia by the QS University Rankings in 2010 and 2011. Such outstanding performance does not only reveal the great strategic importance that the Hong Kong society and the Government attach to higher education, it also clearly demonstrates the success of the society's investment in this sector.

With such solid foundation, Hong Kong's higher education sector is indeed well equipped to leverage on the opportunities arising from the acceleration in the flow of information, capital and people between the West and the East. In fact, as the world is moving fast, we are extremely sensitive to the urgent need for the Hong Kong higher education sector to respond to the process of globalisation and the rapid development of Asia, Mainland China in particular, so as to help Hong Kong retain its uniqueness as an international city that is in harmony with the Mainland system.

Internationalisation has always been associated with the mobility of students or the export of education services. But I must emphasise that to our higher education sector, internationalisation means much more than the provision of education for non-local students. We believe internationalisation should cover all gamut of institutions' activities that aim to enhance the quality of education for our students and our research capability, with a view to equipping students with the relevant knowledge, skills and attitudes that can contribute to the society and the world.

A globalised learning environment

Student body

To educate globally competitive and contributing students, our institutions have been exposing students to the reality of an increasingly globalised world by sending students abroad for structured and focused overseas study and internship that are long enough for them to acquire deeper understanding of and respect for foreign lifestyles and cultures. With the support of funding from the UGC and other sources such as private donations, many of the publicly-funded institutions have set for themselves specific exchange targets which can be as aggressive as sending 50% of their students outside of Hong Kong for exchange programmes.

Our institutions are working hard to create a multi-national and diversified environment here in Hong Kong. We welcome students from around the world to study and to participate in exchange programmes. In the past decade, proportion of non-local students in Hong Kong has been rising significantly, from 2.2% in 2000-01 to 13.5% in 2010-11. To deepen internationalisation and to enhance our research capability, we launched in 2009 the Hong Kong PhD Fellowship Scheme to attract outstanding students from all corners of the globe to our doctoral research programmes in Hong Kong. The three rounds of applications have successfully attracted over 15 000 applicants from over 150 countries.


Apart from diversifying our student body, our institutions have been making significant investment in recruiting the best faculties from around the world. Historically, the academic faculty in Hong Kong has long been characteristically international, which brings international experience and international networks to our systems. The unique advantages in Hong Kong make it possible for us to maintain and even improve the international mix of our faculty.

We have been endowed with a number of favourable fundamentals, including the use of English in instruction and research, and the high degree of institutional autonomy protected by the law, which gives institutions and the faculty substantial freedom in the initiation or acceptance of research programmes. The attractiveness of Hong Kong's higher education sector has become even more apparent in recent years. Our academic credibility and robust scholarly climate, which are underpinned by substantial institutional autonomy, are now accompanied by the adjoining Mainland China which has been developed into a vibrant and globally significant system. Hong Kong has become a unique and important platform where scholars from around the world can teach, conduct research and publish their work in English, and apply their work to the developments in Mainland China. Against this background, it is no surprise that our institutions host some of Asia's - and indeed the world's - best research programmes, ranging from our world-class business management programmes to pioneering research in areas such as avian influenza, China studies, telecommunications, Chinese medicine, plant and agricultural biotechnology, and environmental sustainability.

But having the right mix of students and faculties is not sufficient, as the quality of education depends to large extent on the content of the curriculum. Thanks to the vision and the determination of the Government and the institutions, Hong Kong is, from next year onwards, investing in an extra year of education for our undergraduates by implementing the new four-year undergraduate programme. It aims to give a balanced education to students through an integrated programme that provides a broader knowledge base to support specialized learning. This development gives the institutions an unprecedented opportunity to better prepare their students for the challenges of internationalisation. 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. Our purpose is clear, that is, to equip students with the intellectual and cultural capacity to embrace challenges in any new environment, to acquire new knowledge and ideas and to be quick in identifying and capturing new opportunities in the increasingly globalised world.

Hong Kong as the Base for "East meets West"

The task of bringing the East and the West together is bound to be tremendous in view of the vastness of each system. While Hong Kong can continue to leverage on its intermediary role and unite the Chinese and Western perspectives, we cannot and should not do it on our own. The breadth and depth of the Asian cultures allow substantial room for exploration. Hong Kong may facilitate this process by serving as the base, as well as the partner, for those who are keen to explore the different regions in Mainland China and other parts of Asia in the form of exchange activities or research collaboration. We can also contribute by helping people in Asia to reach out to the rest of the world through Hong Kong. To achieve these, our institutions, including the University of Hong Kong, will seek to develop and strengthen a strong tripartite network between the West, Hong Kong and Mainland China and indeed the rest of Asia.

Concluding Remarks

Ladies and gentlemen, the University of Hong Kong has, with its history of a hundred years, clearly demonstrated the success of the western university model in the Chinese society. It has gained international reputation and recognition without losing its uniqueness as a Hong Kong university. We are all proud of its accomplishments, in particular the impressive achievements that the University has made under the leadership of the Vice-Chancellor Prof Tsui. His success in elevating the University's research status, as demonstrated by the fact that 105 staff of the University ranked among top 1% scientists in the world, are truly remarkable given that there are only 694 scientists of such kind in the world. And the progress of the University in the area of internationalization is exemplary. The University has an extensive global network comprising more than 300 universities and academic/research institutes, and has initiated the East-West Alliance comprising, amongst others, Cambridge, Oxford, Stanford, UC Berkeley and the University of Toronto. It has also established joint laboratories with such organisations as the World Health Organisation's Influenza Centre, Pasteur Institute in Paris, Aaron Diamond AIDS Institute in New York and the Centre for Applied Genomics in Toronto. The campus here in Hong Kong is no less internationalized, with 56% of the academic staff coming from other countries, and more than 35% of the students are non-local. The University has come a long way since its establishment, and I would like to take this opportunity to congratulate the University of Hong Kong on its outstanding achievements in the past 100 years.

Lastly, I would like to wish the University every success in its future endeavours, and to all of you, fruitful and inspiring discussions at today's Summit.