Keeping HKUST at the cutting edge of tech
The 2015 QS University Rankings have seen Hong Kong University of Science and Technology (HKUST) climb to number 28, making it Hong Kong’s top university.
This accomplishment, which coincides with HKUST’s 25th anniversary celebrations this year, has delighted its president, professor Tony Chan.
“Twenty-five years ago, some people, including me, expressed scepticism when we saw the city investing in a university devoted to science and technology,” Chan says. “This has now become a reality. As president, I feel honoured that we have achieved this in such a short time. It’s the best birthday present and boosts staff morale … we owe our success to the city’s vision, planning and resources.”
Chan succinctly reflects on his own achievements. “I have broadened my horizons and equipped myself, getting ready for opportunities which may emerge at any time. I believe that I have tried things out without considering whether or not I will succeed, because I will definitely fail if I don’t try … Also, my education over the years has given me the confidence that I can compete with the best,” he says. “My main achievement now is seeing my students’ work receive citations [in academic journals].”
Chan has ambitious plans for the future of the university and its students. “We will further intensify the campus culture of the recognition of excellence,” he says. “We have put in place a promotion mechanism for outstanding professors. Hopefully, this will cascade down to the students.”
HKUST has embarked on a major infrastructural upgrade. More classrooms and study facilities will highlight the emphasis on student engagement and group discussions, to spark inspiration for innovation.
In its strategic plan, the university will venture into research and the application of innovations on new frontiers by leveraging its strengths in interdisciplinary research and education. “The advantage of exploring new frontiers is that it is a relatively level playing field. We have a better chance of being the leader,” Chan says.
Robotics is one such area and the Pearl River delta has already made headway in robotics production. Sustainability studies are another main focus, spurred by growing global demand. “We will also concentrate on design thinking and entrepreneurship where technological innovations are supported by design aesthetics. The success of the Apple brand is a great example. This will also be integrated with business,” Chan notes.
He believes students should be educated to capitalise on Hong Kong’s advantages, including its diversity, sound judicial system, and the city’s integration with the Pearl River Delta. “At the same time, they need global vision. That’s why we have the exchange programmes with overseas universities … Our student body is international. HKUST has the highest international student ratio in Hong Kong.”
Chan cites Frank Wang Tao, founder and chief executive of Dajiang Innovations Science and Technology Co., a leading producer of camera drones, as the poster child for innovations combined with entrepreneurship.
“We have created a stimulating eco-system. Apart from solid basic knowledge, we support students through the platform ‘Entrepreneurship Centre’, for like-minded students to start and manage their projects. There is UROP, the Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program, under which undergraduates join research teams led by professors. Each semester, around 300 undergraduates are involved in these research projects. The environment is competitive, as the projects are entered into competition. Although undergraduates may lack basic knowledge, the feedback from professors is that they more than make up for it with their unbridled imagination. Undergraduates do make contributions to the projects,” he adds.
More importantly, Chan thinks engagement in research projects is an excellent learning experience for students. “They will discover that they cannot find the answers to everything in a textbook … they learn about teamwork and how to identify new areas through critical thinking.”