Association of American Universities

Elite institute may not be the best academic model for Hong Kong

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 18 July, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 22 February, 2014, 2:24pm

Having studied at Princeton University, I read with interest Jack Teh's article on the proposed idea to create a research centre in Hong Kong on a par with Princeton's Institute for Advanced Studies ('Don't sacrifice results in quest for prestige', July 15).

My experience there compels me to offer a few comments.

First, the Institute for Advanced Studies is in Princeton but is in no way affiliated with Princeton University.

The two are separate institutions with separate statutes, staff, rules and regulations.

I do not know what to make of this, but it might well impinge on our opinion on whether it is a good idea to create a centre too closely linked to one particular, and already existing, institution.

Second, the institute has a hefty budget as far as salaries and fellowships are concerned.

However it spends very little on laboratories, because its scientists are primarily involved in theoretical work, the kind of work, in other words, that we in Hong Kong are not especially well known for. Note, moreover, that two of its four schools are in the social sciences and the humanities, the school of historical studies and the school of social sciences, to be exact.

Are potential donors, whether public or private, ready to invest so much to the hypothetical centre to fund these areas of academic study?

I should like to hope so, for Hong Kong lags far, far behind in the humanities and social sciences.

Finally, the Institute for Advanced Studies in Princeton is, in my opinion, losing some of its relevance in today's climate.

More and more, it looks like a place for famous scholars to enjoy the glow of prestige rather than a hotbed of cutting-edge research. Are we sure it is the right model?

As Mr Teh points out, it may be better to shape our vision around a bottom-up model, one that stresses the recruitment of top students.

Giorgio Biancorosso, Mid-Levels