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20 June 2016

Times Higher Education Asia Universities Summit
President's Speech

It gives me great pleasure to welcome you all today, for some of you for the second time, to the inaugural Times Higher Education (THE) Asia Universities Summit. It is a wonderful start to the event to see so many senior leaders and university presidents gathered here – many of you have come from afar and we appreciate your presence., I’d also like to add a special welcome to our guest of honor Mr Nicholas Yang, Secretary for Innovation and Technology of the HKSAR Government.

Asia as a powerhouse of higher education
Since the millennium, there has been a gradual but noticeable shift in the higher education axis. No longer is “go west” the automatic cry, even for those studying science and technology. Increasingly, it is “come east” to experience world-class global education and research.

The great expansion and rise of Asia’s higher education globally has been fueled and advanced by the region’s growing role in the world economy and the need to sustain and build on this economic role and social development. It has been fostered by prescient planners, and public and private investment; recognition of the significance of research as a driver of the knowledge economy; awareness that a 21st-century education involves much more than simple transmission of knowledge; early adoption of internationalization and a global strategic view; and the hard-working, high-aspiring dreams of people in this region.

Hong Kong, where this Summit is appropriately convened, is a great example of a place in Asia where education and research endeavors at many of its universities have leapt to international prominence in the past two decades. Withal community of just seven million, the city offers a unique combination of advantages: the rule of law, a low tax system, free flow of information, a bilingual pool of professionals, academic freedom, top infrastructure, and government support. Such an environment encourages leading minds to assemble or return home, attracts and facilitates global academic and industry partnerships, and draws the attention of young high flyers everywhere. As part of the Pearl River Delta and given China’s huge developmental opportunities, the city’s location is also an incentive for discovery and enterprise in science, engineering and technology.

On the summit
The theme of the summit on innovation nurturing is particularly relevant to Asian universities because they tend to be younger and technology based, and thus more ready and receptive to change. But where do Asia and the global university community go in the next two decades? These years ahead promise an unprecedented growth in the human knowledge base in the wake of the revolution brought by computing and information technology. How are we to foster innovation and creativity relevant to rapidly evolving needs and what impact will such speed have on us as educators?

Certainly, we have already come a long way from Aristotle, when the teacher was the sole source of information for students. Today, technology provides many different ways for students to learn: the flipped and interactive classrooms of Massive Open Online Courses (MOOC), for example; or independently through the internet.

How can our teaching mission optimize such technology while retaining the essential elements that a human teacher conveys, such as insight, personal experience, inspiration, and a passion for learning? How are universities, as institutions, going to rise to the challenge of a world in which knowledge – our raison d’etre – changes faster than the time it takes to get together to discuss the original development?

HKUST’s contribution
At my own university, The Hong Kong University of Science and Technology (HKUST), we are already starting to address such trends. Since establishment in 1991, HKUST has been guided by our founders’ insightful vision of the type of university needed to build a knowledge-based society, in Hong Kong, regionally and globally. The University advances learning and knowledge through teaching and research in science, engineering, management and business studies, and humanities and social science. Through the collective effort of faculty and staff, our commitment to internationalization and continual quest for academic excellence, we have acquired a global reputation in just 25 years. We have set up, long ago, a Tech Transfer Center, with an aim to facilitate effective technology development and transfer to the benefit of society. Our Entrepreneurship Center, founded in 1999, has been providing workshops and seminars to our students, faculty, and alumni, run its own co-working space, named “The Base” for our students, and has organized many entrepreneurship competitions, in particular, an annual HK$1M Entrepreneurship Competition, where we award winners with seed money to form their own company or to further the commercialization of their inventions. Recently, we have appointed a new Associate Vice President on Knowledge Transfer, and our Council has approved, and we have raised part of the money for, the construction of a new Innovation Building. We are determined and dedicated, and we have backed up our words with action.

As such, we are often regarded as a rapid-mover in the world of higher education. But we recognize we have to be faster and even more flexible in the future!

We have chosen five strategic focus areas of research, in addition to our broad base of academic disciplines, to take the University into the new era: namely data science, sustainability, public policy, autonomous systems, as well as design thinking and entrepreneurship. Within each, basic research will be joined by innovation and cross-disciplinary perspectives to tackle the complex issues encompassed in these broad domains. As a whole, the five will also help to provide fresh insight and pathways in our other fields of exploration and our education.

I believe these vital anchor areas for the future and our approach will be of considerable interest to peers at this Summit. I am also looking forward to many more thought-provoking discussions on a range of fascinating issues over the next two days.

Now it is my great honor to introduce our opening speaker. A well-respected engineer and educator, educated at Caltech and Stanford, Mr Nicholas Yang became founding head of the HKSAR Government’s Innovation and Technology Bureau, created only 7 months ago. In this role he has been setting his knowledge and expertise to work on behalf of Hong Kong government in policy matters on information technology and innovation. Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome Mr Nicholas Yang.


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