University Presidents Global Forum
Pre-dinner Speech by
Professor Arthur K C Li, Secretary for Education and Manpower
30 March 2004
Dr. Edgar Cheng, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen,
It gives me much pleasure to join you this evening on the last day of your conference. It,s heartening to see so many friends from abroad and so many old colleagues from the Chinese University. How kind of you to remember me every time you celebrate the University's 40th anniversary. I'm indeed deeply grateful.
My host insists that I say something to you tonight, as this is the grand finale to a project that's started by me some three years back. So perhaps I should just begin from there. After all we have the whole night ahead of us.
Having started the project but not being able to see it through has been one of my little regrets: I had to leave all the fun, all the thrill, and then of course all the hard work to my colleagues. But if the forum was my 'baby', I can see that it has been entrusted to very loving and capable hands. From what I observe this evening, all the guests are being well taken care of and look genuinely happy; the organizers too seem to have enjoyed the whole exercise exceedingly. I'm probably the only one who has missed out on the interesting interaction and lively exchange until now. So, my warmest congratulations to both organizers and participants on a most successful conference, and my sincerest thanks to my old colleagues, who have given the function its splendid form and everybody a most memorable time. As for myself, I am glad I played a part, however small, at the conception stage, which has won me a ticket to this banquet. Thank you, Edgar, for your hospitality. What more can I ask for?
Well, perhaps I should just ask for two more minutes to sing the praises of vice-chancellors and presidents, especially those from publicly-funded universities. I know you have been at the forefront of a battle against declining resources for higher education, which is the trend worldwide and not started by me; I know how difficult it is to manage such a decline without sacrificing education quality. I know too the exacting demands of a knowledge economy and a global society. What we are facing is a fast changing world, and universities are expected to be the agents of change and economic regeneration.
Exciting are the challenges and heavy are your responsibilities. But experience from across the world tells us that most vice-chancellors have been coping valiantly and coping well, coming up with innovative measures and solutions of all sorts, such as cost-sharing with students, raising private donations, engaging in income-generating activities, restructuring university management, and reordering priorities.
It's no mere coincidence that more and more gatherings like this are being organized for university leaders from different systems and cultures, for they find it necessary to come together from time to time to share useful tips, to gauge future trends, and to brainstorm each other for new ideas to tackle new problems.
New problems will certainly continue to emerge but I am sure university presidents are versatile enough to overcome them. A vice-chancellor is at once a visionary leader, a chief-executive officer, and a fund-raiser, adept at marshalling resources of different kinds to advance the cause of education. I know many vice-chancellors who would make excellent fund-raisers but I don't know one fundraiser who would make an excellent vice-chancellor. The same goes for the CEO and the visionary leader. And because of their vision, versatility, and resourcefulness, university vice-chancellors always rate very high in the public's esteem, definitely much higher than education ministers, who are often relegated to the category of politicians. And then they always say politicians and diapers have one thing in common: they should be changed often and for the same reasons.
So, for the vice-chancellors, I'm never really worried. I'm only reminded of a little news story that I read a long time ago, about a French couple caught in a very compromising situation in a Volkswagen. The defense lawyer argued that it was impossible to do what the couple had been accused of doing in a Volkswagen. The judge appointed a commission to study it, who returned with this verdict: 'It was possible but very difficult.' Apparently the commission had found that while there was little room to manoeuvre, in the final analysis it depended very much on one's creativity and nimbleness.
Ladies and gentlemen, in the realm of education there are always impossible dreams to dream but possible tasks to task ourselves with, no matter how difficult. In this, you have my best wishes. I hope I can have yours.