Silver Jubilee Banquet of the Croucher Foundation
19 November 2004
Speech by Professor Arthur K C Li
Secretary for Education and Manpower
Professor Kan, Trustees of the Croucher Foundation, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen,
It is my honour and pleasure to join you at the Silver Jubilee Banquet of the Croucher Foundation. Gathered here to celebrate this special event are all those who are closely related to the Croucher Foundation in one way or another, as beneficiaries, supporters, collaborators and friends. As I see among us familiar faces of renowed scientists and celebrities, I must congratulate the Foundation on having made a significant impact on the lives of so many bright minds, and inspired so many of our community leaders to support its cause.
It only takes a spark to start a fire. This is true for great scientific discoveries which started off with simple curiosity, and ended up revolutionising our way of life. This is also true in the case of the Croucher Foundation, where one man’s act of good will has become one of the corner stones of Hong Kong ’s research culture. The late Noel Croucher is fondly remembered by the commercial world as one of the founders of Hong Kong ’s Stock Exchange, but what makes his story truly legendary is his entrepreneurship and foresight. It is perhaps no coincidence that Mr Croucher should bestow his wealth on budding scientists. Being a man of vision himself, he knows too well that only imaginative and daring minds can drive the progress of mankind.
The call for innovation and creativity has never been as pressing as in the 21st Century. With rapid socio-economic changes, they bring with it more and more complex problems. Deadly diseases emerge with new viruses and also by-products of unhealthy life-styles or a damaged ecology and environment. On the other hand, these developments offer opportunities which, if timely harnassed, can give us an edge in this brave new world. Whichever way you look at it, there is simply no room for complacency. We must rise to the challenges now, or we lose out.
The power of education
Central to our education policy is the question of how we can nurture our young people to bring out the best in them. One way to do it is to provide a diversified curriculum and multiple learning pathways, so that students of different aptitudes, abilities and interests will be able to exploit their own potentials to the full.
This is why we are spearheading education reforms for our children, proposing a new academic structure and curriculum for the senior secondary and university education that they need. Under the new 3+3+4 academic structure, all students will have the opportunity to complete a 3-year senior secondary course. The new curriculum with Liberal Studies as one of the core subjects will give our students a broadened knowledge base and enable them to have different perspectives. It will also help them understand contemporary issues that impact on their dialy life at personal, community, national and global levels. The 4-year undergraduate programme that follows will also allow more time and space for broader and diversified learning experience, hence better preparing our students for work or further learning. We hope children coming through our education system will not only be effective learners at school, but will remain as critical, reflective and independent thinkers after they leave school. We also hope that the solid foundation we build for our children can help some of them proceed confidently beyond first degrees to engage in more challenging research work.
Through the Research Grants Council and the Innovation and Technology Fund, the Government has invested substantially in scientific research, and perhaps still not enough. Nonetheless, we have made great strides in expanding and upgrading the research capacity of our local tertiary institutions. Public funding channelled to research activities each year has increased from some $100 million in the early 1990s to over $500 million today. In addition, grants are awarded to encourage the institutions to build on their existing strengths and develop areas of excellence which measure up to international standards.
To attract more talents from different parts of the world, we have since last year removed the quota for non-local research postgraduate students at the UGC-funded institutions. The establishment of the Science Park has further improved the infrastructure for R&D.
Notwithstanding the above, Hong Kong ’s research funding base is unfortunately narrow compared with that in many developed countries. As our higher education sector expands, we need a greater degree of diversity in the system, so that private funds can take up a bigger share of the community’s investment in research.
The Croucher Foundation
Thanks to the generosity of its founder, the Croucher Foundation has for the past 25 years been complementing the Government’s efforts in this regard. It does not only benefit its grantees, but also fosters international exchanges and collaborations. In fact, the impact it has on individuals, their parent institutions and the community as a whole is much deeper and more far-reaching than most people would have thought 25 years ago, or even today.
To give a recent example, the devastating attack of SARS last year has not only taken hundreds of lives in Hong Kong , but it has also dealt a severe blow on the economy of the entire region. Amidst the crisis and under great stress, however, Hong Kong scientists, with barely two machines in two universities, managed to sequence the gene of the virus within a few days of scientists at Canada ’s Michael Smith Genome Sciences Centre which was much better equipped and had far more staff.
As Professor Kenneth Young so aptly put it, none of the advances made by Hong Kong scientists in the handling of SARS could have been possible without Hong Kong ’s research culture, which owes much to the Croucher Foundation. If we had not had research funding for the past 20 years we could not have done this. Today, the Croucher Foundation is funding another proposal by Dr Joseph Sung, for a study focusing specifically on how to manage outbreaks of infectious disease. Not only did we survive SARS, we recovered with great speed, and are back on our feet again, ready to move ahead. For all these we have our scientists to thank, and also those who back them up with research funding.
One will therefore not be surprised to see that seven out of the eight UGC-funded institutions have each chosen to name one laboratory after Noel Croucher in recognition of his 25 years of support for science. I believe our gratitude should also go to you, Professor Kan, and your fellow Trustees, past and present, for your remarkable efforts in administering the Croucher legacy.
In an increasing globalised and competitive world, it is not easy for Hong Kong to stay in the forefront of the scientific race. But I am confident that if we share the same vision and commitment as Mr Croucher, we can always be one step closer to our goal.
Many of you have made invaluable contribution to the development of science and technology over the years. You may not realize how, as part of the Croucher network, you have inspired and will continue to inspire future generations of scientists. Noel Croucher has made a difference, and so can you. I look forward to your continuing support to help establish Hong Kong as the regional centre of excellence in scientific research.