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18 November 2011

2011 Congregation
President's Speech

Chancellor, Pro-Chancellor, honorands, distinguished guests, colleagues, graduates, ladies and gentlemen:

This is the year of the 20th Anniversary of HKUST when we celebrate our achievements in the last two decades. This is also the year of technology, the year of Steve Jobs.

20 years ago, when people in Hong Kong spoke of science and technology, they did so as if it had little to do with our lives or our economy. Today, technology has transformed our lives and entire industries. Technology drives our economic growth and provides the comfort and convenience for modern living. Here at HKUST, our mission is crystal-clear. We don't do just science and technology; we do what is innovative in science and technology because, like Apple, we cannot be competitive without being innovative. Also, like Apple, we excel in business and management as well as the humanities and social sciences, because technology without sound business plans and the human dimension will limit its impact on our economy and our lives.

Last month, the World Bank released a book "The Road to Academic Excellence" examining the experience of HKUST, among 11 universities in nine countries, that have grappled with the challenges of building successful research institutions in difficult circumstances. HKUST is featured in a full chapter as a successful example. In mid-October, the New York Times ran an article on this book called "A Recipe for Excellence", in which HKUST was featured prominently. A hundred years ago, the President of Harvard University predicted that it would take 200 years to create a research university. HKUST did it in less than 20. Our success, now studied and copied by our peers around the world, hinges on several factors, of which I will single out only two: the recruitment of top-tier faculty, who combine their individual academic excellence with our collective idealism, that magic found only rarely in universities. The second factor is our emphasis on being unique and on being innovative. We do not want to simply copy what is best; we want to create what is better. The key question is: how do you nurture creativity?

Nurturing a culture of creativity takes more than a slogan. It takes thoughtful planning, beginning with our students. We now give our undergraduates time to choose their majors, and time to enjoy their minors, giving them a broad-based education, allowing them to do hands-on research, and exposing them to plays, opera and concerts. We believe that a creative person should have broad interests and a hungry curiosity, one who wants to know about everything under the sun: chemistry, history, literature, architecture, calligraphy and sociology. Who knows when out of these different things a new idea might be born?

Talent is what separates a great university from a good one. We believe that talent is best groomed by the interplay between teaching and research, the interplay between disciplines, and the give and take between the university and the community. We also believe that solidarity gives us the wings to fly higher and faster. We are giving all these a new name: the '1-HKUST' concept, in which the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.

I just came back from a visit to 10 universities in four countries in 10 days in Europe. Every country and every university I visited is focused squarely on China. China is seen partly as a knight in shining armor by a Europe in bad economic shape, and partly as the country where the future is most exciting. Because of our proximity, we in Hong Kong sometimes forget that we are a part of China's future, as it races down the path of technology. Hong Kong is included in China's latest 5-Year Plan. We at HKUST intend to be in the front row seat, as partners and collaborators with our Mainland cousins.

At the same time, we are, first and foremost, an international research university. This University has become a multicultural community. Statistically, I am proud to say, we are the most international university in our city, in terms of our faculty and student composition. In Continental Europe, they are dead serious about going international. The so-called Bologna Process has resulted in EU universities adopting a 3+2 system, with three years of undergraduate education in a native language plus two more years at the master's level in English. Without exception, every top university in Europe is eager to engage us in partnership, as we are the model for fast-rising universities in the East.

Universities are for the future, and university education is a preparation for the future, never a narrow job-specific training. As a university of science and technology, we live for tomorrow, a better tomorrow. By 2047, 50 years after our return to Chinese sovereignty, what kind of society will Hong Kong become? Where will we be in relation to China and the world? What role will our graduates play in the new era? The future is our business and these are questions we wrestle with in preparing for it. Of the four honorary graduates this year, two are famous exponents of the rule of law as the cornerstone of our social stability. The two scientists we pay tribute to are masters of innovation that will define our future. Stability and innovation, these are the two essential ingredients for our continued prosperity.

If Steve Jobs were alive today, I would dearly love to give him our fifth honorary doctorate this year, for showing the world the triumph of innovation, and for changing the way we live through technology. And that is precisely the mission of this university.

Thank you.


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