Oxford's new chapter in 900-year-old story

Famous university plans to work more closely with Hong Kong institutions, especially in fight against diseases, says vice chancellor

PUBLISHED : Monday, 09 December, 2013, 6:37am
UPDATED : Monday, 09 December, 2013, 6:37am

Britain's prestigious University of Oxford is to make its presence increasingly felt in Hong Kong and on the mainland by helping set up research centres and collaborating closely with regional institutions, although it has no plans to open any new campuses.

Or as Professor Andrew Hamilton, who as vice chancellor has headed the university since 2009, put it: "Oxford is a very old university … It took us 900 years to build one campus. It will probably take us another 900 years to build the second."

He said working more closely with local institutions and partnering up to open local research centres was the best way forward, noting many challenges had become globalised these days, and to tackle them would require bright minds from the East.

"The challenge of research is a global one, on issues such as climate change and understanding the impact of immigration on 21st-century nations," Hamilton told the South China Morning Post while attending a children's story-telling session at the Royal Park Hotel in Sha Tin on Saturday.

Raising the issue of the latest cases of H7N9 in the city, he added: "Understanding the emergent diseases in the world and in Asia is important. Think of malaria and think of avian flu. Understanding and managing emergent diseases cannot be solved by one country or one university. It's a global challenge, and it can only be solved through global collaborations."

The professor was in town to extend a 2011 deal with Chinese University allowing collaboration on research pertaining to disasters and the humanitarian response.

The 61-year-old professor, who also attended Chinese University's 50th anniversary celebrations last week, was awarded an honorary doctorate degree in law.

Earlier this year, Oxford University signed an agreement with the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, which now, with the help of Oxford, offers top-level short management courses.

On the mainland, Hamilton recalled setting up a research centre with clinicians at the Fuwai Hospital in Beijing four years ago. "It is a China Oxford Centre for international health research. It is an example of Oxford working in partnership with scientists in China to tackle problems and diseases," he said.

Hamilton will return to the city more often starting next year, as he has a new role with Hong Kong's University Grants Committee, which manages loans for local students.

He said he was due to attend his first meeting in January but refused to reveal details of his role.

The professor also plans to organise a first official gathering of Oxford alumni in Asia, to be held in Hong Kong next spring.

"We have many students in Oxford today from Hong Kong and China. It's only America that has more students than Hong Kong and China."

He added: "We are very keen to have students who are excellent in their subject and who have a passion for their subject to join us."

Last year, 865 students of Chinese nationality - including those from Hong Kong and Macau - enrolled in Oxford University's undergraduate and postgraduate courses.