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Welcoming Remarks by Chairman, UGC at 50th Anniversary Cocktail Reception and Presentation Ceremony of 2015 UGC Teaching Award (9.9.2015)

50th Anniversary Cocktail Reception and
Presentation Ceremony of 2015 UGC Teaching Award
9 September 2015
Welcoming Remarks by Chairman, UGC

Chief Executive, Secretary for Education, Distinguished Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen,

It gives me great pleasure to welcome you all to this cocktail reception and teaching award ceremony. Chief Executive and Secretary for Education, we are particularly pleased that you have been able to find time from your busy schedules to join us this evening.

As well as your own distinguished presence, I am delighted that so many other significant events have come together in perfect harmony tonight. As you all know we gather to mark the 50th anniversary of the establishment of the UGC in October 1965. Also we will celebrate the 5th UGC Teaching Award which has always been my favourite event in the UGC calendar. Finally these three things come together during my final UGC meeting week as Chairman, so all the good omens are perfectly aligned.

Hong Kong's higher education sector has made great strides. I know that rankings have their limitations. But the 2014-15 QS World University Rankings provides a source of pride for our small city, in that three of our institutions made it to the top 100, same as the academic hub Boston, while London has five in the top 100. We match up pretty well.

The success of the UGC sector over the years has been underpinned by the support of the government and its respect for the UGC's role as the buffer between government and the institutions. We are also blessed by the leadership of our past chairmen, all distinguished community leaders who led with great wisdom and dedication. We also owe much to the local and international members, all prominent individuals in their own right, who have selflessly committed weeks and sometimes months a year sharing valuable ideas with us. Some of the past chairmen, past and present members are here tonight. On behalf of the UGC I would like to take this opportunity to thank them all wholeheartedly.

We have put together a commemorative album in which many of our past and present members have shared their memories. You will find that the UGC's work clearly remains with those who participated. There is a copy of the Album on your chair for you to bring home tonight.

During my four years as Chairman of the UGC, I have witnessed positive, significant developments in the sector. Foremost must be the launch of the four-year undergraduate programme in 2012, the culmination of the 3+3+4 new academic structure that forms part of the education reform dating back to 2000.

It took years of discussions and preparation to achieve what was a seamless transition. We visited all campuses during last two years to see how it all worked, and we were very pleased with what we saw.

An education system is a huge laboratory in itself and the transformation of our undergraduate education has been a breath-taking exercise; an opportunity which is the envy of the world. Now that we have gained some three years' experience of offering that precious extra year we must continuously review, refine and improve.

In teaching and learning, we have encouraged greater collaboration amongst the institutions in accelerating the adoption of necessary pedagogical changes and innovations. To further this end, institutions should make creative and effective use of a broad range of pedagogical opportunities made possible by the revolutionary digital technologies, which remains to be fully developed. Additional funds had been allocated on a competitive basis in the 2012-15 triennium to support such initiatives.

As part of its drive to promote Internationalisation and Engagement with Mainland China, the UGC continues to support the diversification of sources of students and campus integration. Thanks to continued government funding support, Chief Executive, as you announced in the 2015 Policy Address, more students will go outside Hong Kong for exchange or other learning opportunities. This two-way flow of talents should be further enhanced.

It is no accident that we celebrate teaching and learning as the centre point of our 50th birthday. We are presenting our annual UGC Teaching Awards today. We remain steadfast in our belief that the influence that good teachers can bring to the students, their peers and the community is tremendous and long-lasting.

In research, in just over a short span of 20 years since the major funding boost that accompanied the establishment of the Research Grants Council, Hong Kong has attained much international recognition.

The results of the 2014 Research Assessment Exercise showed that 46 per cent of the research submissions made by the eight UGC-funded institutions were "world leading" or "internationally excellent". The assessments carried out by renowned academics from around the world revealed the "centres of excellence", the areas of strengths in our high quality research.

Having looked back perhaps it would do no harm to set sight on the future. There are three key aspects.

First, in the coming years the UGC sector can expect to continue to build on the opportunities afforded by the additional year granted by the four year curriculum.

Second I turn to the research agenda. There are a number of crucial points that I would like to emphasise briefly.

It has been recognised that ours is comparatively a very small system. To maximise impact, we see the need to rise above individual ambition and engage in greater collaboration at all levels, pooling resources and sharing expertise to build critical mass.

There is room for further support for several key areas distinct from basic research - sometimes known as translational or midstream research, that has the potential of generating in a shorter term societal benefits and impact. This builds on our current strengths in fundamental research; it should not compete with it, especially for resources.

We can do more in midstream or translational research in a wide range of fields from humanities through to engineering. Let us not disrupt our core strengths but build upon its great foundations. However, we must place more emphasis on the impact of our research.

Society has a right to expect also some improvement in their lives and livelihoods arising from this investment. UGC will nurture a research and knowledge exchange eco-system that takes our fundamental research strength enhanced by collaboration, through to the midstream or translational phase but in a model which connects with industry, government agencies and society where the impact of research will be found. Midstream research and connectivity will be the key concepts which strengthen our future but not at the expense of what we do so well already.

Finally I would like to reiterate that all of these mission critical activities must be underpinned by effective governance. Good governance defends our two core values of institutional autonomy subject to public accountability, and academic freedom within the law.

Sound governance also needs to be matched with effective leadership. Together these twin assets ensure that timely and effective decisions are taken to secure the Mission and Vision of our institutions. Mutual trust and respect between Council and Senior Management are necessary conditions to achieve this.

As ever, the UGC, acting as the buffer between the government and institutions, is committed to working for a brighter future of Hong Kong's higher education. I am confident that the sector would excel further. UGC will continue to draw on local and overseas expertise in our work ahead. It is this gathering of the best minds from top institutions worldwide, after all, that makes our committee the unique body that it has been for the past 50 years. We very much look forward to that future.

Thank you.