19 September 2008 (Friday)
The Rectors/Presidents Conference of
the Universities in Hong Kong and Baden-Württemberg
Speech by Mr Michael Suen, GBS, JP
Secretary for Education
Minister Frankenberg, presidents of universities, Ladies and Gentlemen,
I am delighted to join you this morning. A very warm welcome to you all, especially our German friends who have travelled far to be here.
This conference marks a big step forward in scientific and university co-operation between Hong Kong and Baden-Württemberg.
Research and innovation are key to the continual progress and prosperity of mankind. Knowledge, as a public good, needs investment, promotion and dissemination. Governments around the world, including our two governments, devote energy and resources to assist research activities and facilitate the sharing of results.
Allow me to indulge in a very brief history lesson.
For centuries, German academics have been at the forefront of scientific discoveries. Many of your universities are the cradle of fundamental sciences including physics, chemistry, astronomy and mathematics. Baden-Württemberg is home to some of Germany ’s oldest and most prestigious universities, some of which are represented at today’s Conference.
By comparison, Hong Kong is a relative newcomer to international academia. The Hong Kong College of Medicine is arguably the first modern tertiary institution on Chinese soil. It was founded in 1887, one year before the Nanjing University .
The founder of modern China , Dr Sun Yat Sen, was one of the first graduates from the College of Medicine in 1892.
In 1911, the College was upgraded to a fully-fledged university, the University of Hong Kong . In the early days, Hong Kong nurtured only a modest crop of undergraduates barely sufficient to meet the needs arising from our development
This is no longer the case. In the last few decades, Government and academia have joined hands to engineer an overhaul of our tertiary education system, with an eye on more accessible opportunities for aspiring students, more emphasis on research and higher academic quality.
I note that the founding of our first tertiary institution came more than 500 years after the founding of the University of Heidelberg – Germany’s oldest University – so we have had some catching up to do.
Today, our University Grants Committee funds seven universities, together with the Hong Kong Institute of Education.
We are proud of the achievements of our academics, particularly those in the medical science field. The achievements include discovery and sequencing of SARS corona virus, a world first in live donor liver transplants, pioneering work in computer navigation surgery for bone cancer patients, a breakthrough on non-invasive prenatal diagnosis and widely-cited publications on avian influenza.
Medical science aside, our researchers are also receiving international recognition in other fields such as plant and agricultural biotechnology, marine environmental research and innovative technology as well as Chinese medicine and nanotechnology.
This is not bad for a city of some seven million residents on a landmass of about 1,100 square kilometers, which is not much larger than Berlin [892sq km].
We can and will do better. Situated at the crossroads of China and the western world geographically, culturally and linguistically, there is great potential for Hong Kong to serve as a bridge to promote academic exchange between China and the rest of the world.
Of course we are also at a medical crossroads with both western and Chinese medicine being practised and embraced in Hong Kong .
We depend on our tertiary institutions to help achieve our potential. In his Budget earlier in the year, the Financial Secretary announced the provision in phases of 800 additional publicly-funded places for postgraduate research programmes from the 2009-2010 academic year. The Financial Secretary also set aside 1.5 billion Euros (HK$18 billion) for a Research Endowment Fund to promote research and development activities.
We are now discussing how to make the most of the resources available.
Although finances and other resources are limited, we are fortunate to have abundant intellectual capital. Extensive collaboration on various fronts – local, regional and international – will help make the most of this valuable resource.
Here, we need to break the barriers between basic and applied research. We need to fortify the co-operation between institutions. We need to promote a closer link between the academic field and our commerce and industry sectors. Finally, we should grasp the potential collaboration opportunities beyond our borders.
These are worldwide trends that our institutions are pursuing with the support of the University Grants Committee and Government.
For historical reasons, our institutions have long-established ties with fellow institutions in the West. These ties have served us well, helping to consistently lift our academic standards. Since reunification with the Mainland of China in 1997, our institutions have embraced a second wave of extensive collaboration with Mainland institutions.
They have set up exchange programmes, teaching outposts, joint training schemes and research collaboration. So far, five State Key Laboratories have been set up in institutions in Hong Kong , in various fields including oncology, agrobiotechnology, millimeter waves, brain and cognitive sciences and emerging infectious diseases. These labs serve as important platforms for spearheading international collaborations in research and promotion of scientific development.
Our academics are ready and determined to enhance their outreach to academic communities in other countries. It is against this background that Minister Frankenberg and my predecessor conceived this conference.
Later this morning, four of our institutions will sign various collaboration agreements with their German counterparts. These agreements are testament to the importance of co-operation in education between our two places.
I thank HUCOM and the Ministry of Science, Research and the Arts of Baden-Wurttemberg for their work in organising this conference. I wish you all inspiring and fruitful discussions during the conference. To our friends from overseas, I hope you will have the opportunity to experience for yourselves the vibrant, cosmopolitan and welcoming nature of our city. I assure you there is plenty to do in Asia ’s world city, whatever your passion.
I wish you a very enjoyable stay in Hong Kong .