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3 November 2011

Speech at St Paul Convent 2011
President's Speech

Sister Margaret, teachers, parents, students, ladies and gentlemen:

Coming here today fulfills a boyhood dream. 40 years ago, when I was a student at Queen's College, practically your neighbor, I always wanted to come and see what it was like inside St Paul Convent. But in those days, boys from Queen's were not considered quite good enough for St Paul Convent girls, although we had better luck with girls from Belilios. So, I had to wait 40 years for this invitation. It is so sweet when it finally came. Thank you Sister Margaret for making my dream comes true.

Girls from St Paul Convent were always considered a cut above. Your eyes are always on the world. Now on graduation, you are about to leave your beloved school. This is both an exciting, emotional and uneasy time for you as you ponder your future. Should you go overseas or stay in Hong Kong for your studies? In my days, the decision was rather simple and straightforward as there were fewer university places in Hong Kong. Most of us chose to go overseas, to the US, the UK or Canada. Now things are not so clear-cut. So today, I want to explore this subject with you as you face a major decision in your life.

As educated people, we have a duty to look around and look ahead. From where I stand, I see several major trends that smart students cannot ignore:

First, there has been a seismic shift in the world's economy. The East is on the rise. More specifically, China is on the rise, becoming a major economic player courted by the West. This has repercussions for us in higher education. In my days, the flow of international students was almost exclusively a one-way traffic, from East to West. In recent years, with the economy of the West in trouble and turmoil, we have been seeing a steady flow of students coming East from America and Europe. People go where jobs are plentiful and where prospects are promising. To take HKUST as an example, this year 18% of our student intake is non-local, the highest among local universities. You will find us a multicultural campus. Besides, the top universities in Hong Kong are now ranked higher than many in the US, UK, Canada and Australia. In other words, you no longer have to go West to receive an international education, especially when more than a third of our students have a chance to go on overseas exchange programs.

I just came back from a visit to 10 universities in 4 countries in Europe. Every country and university I visited has its eyes squarely trained on China. I know that St Paul Convent is one of Hong Kong's most internationally-oriented schools. I want to gently remind you not to ignore what is happening on the Mainland. Being international may no longer be enough. We should be nationally aware too.

The second trend we cannot ignore is the advent of technology. Technology has transformed our lives and our economy in major ways. You only have to go down to the MTR to see people, young and not so young, glued to their iPads or iPhones. The death of Steve Jobs is major international news, bringing forth an outpouring of grief and tribute from around the world. Young people on the Mainland and Hong Kong know more about the life of Steve Jobs than that of their own leaders. Technology is no longer something remote from our lives. And another thing: Steve Jobs and Apple both owe their success to one thing: innovation. Education is no longer about the passive acquisition of knowledge or training for a vocation. It is a preparation for the future. With knowledge fast becoming obsolete in a fast-changing world, and jobs going offshore by the thousands, the only security you will find is in being innovative and creative. Innovation and creativity is not just for somebody else. Every one of you will have to do it to be competitive.

I know St Paul Convent is an all-girl school and historically, S&T is perceived as not girl friendly. But I want to tell you this perception is not true. One of the universities I visited in Europe is called the University of Pierre and Marie Curie, named after Marie Curie, one of the pioneering woman physicists and a Nobel Laureate. Nowadays, S&T is no longer about heavy machinery and getting your hands dirty. It is about information, creativity and design. In some sense women might have an edge over men in these aspects. So I encourage all of you to consider pursuing further studies or a career in S&T.

On the eve of making your first major decision in life, I invite to carefully consider the observations I have just made. And even though I wasn't invited to St Paul Convent in my student days, I would like to invite you to visit the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology. You will see that in planning an education experience for our students, technology, innovation, internationalization and China are a big part of our design. You may actually find that going international may now mean simply going local.

Thank you.