PolyU – THE Innovation & Impact Summit

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The Hong Kong Polytechnic University

International Summit to drive innovation for greater impact

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 21 June, 2017, 5:09pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 21 June, 2017, 5:09pm

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Featuring high-profile speakers who provided a wide range of thought-provoking insights, the inaugural Times Higher Education (THE) Innovation and Impact Summit brought together more than 200 innovators, entrepreneurs and policymakers.

The two-day event, co-hosted by the Hong Kong Polytechnic University (PolyU), also gave influential figures in the field of higher education the chance to address issues affecting institutions around the world.

The main theme was “powering universities' economic and social impact through innovative research and teaching". This allowed speakers and panellists to explore topics including the local and global impact of university research and how to measure it. 

Citing a study by the University of California Riverside, Phil Baty, THE editorial director for global rankings, noted that three-quarters of the 50 top ground breaking discoveries and inventions of the last 50 years were made by universities. These include the polio vaccine, computers, MRI, IVF and cell phones.

“Perhaps the single most remarkable fact is that these world-changing breakthroughs have been driven by universities which only receive a modest share of research financing,” Baty said.

In his opening remarks, PolyU president Timothy W. Tong had pointed out that universities must act as a powerhouse of knowledge and innovation, turning discoveries to practical use. He noted PolyU’s reputation for transferring research findings from the laboratory to real-world applications which offer meaningful benefits for mankind.

Indeed, these achievements led to being named by THE as one of 55 universities seen as “technology challengers” and recognised for research that makes a difference to society. Tong also explained how PolyU empowers students with a strong sense of social responsibility. While pursuing personal success, they are also expected to consider the needs of the broader community. 

Nicholas Yang, Hong Kong’s Secretary for Innovation and Technology, duly noted the city’s ranking as the world's most competitive economy in 2017 and its status as one of the fastest-growing hubs for start-up businesses. He outlined how current government priorities include supporting this sector and encouraging young people to pursue careers in tech-related industries. This will help Hong Kong remain the ‘super-connector’ between China and the rest of the world, not only in finance, but in technology and other areas too.

Charles Chen Yiden, core founder of Tencent Holdings, whose interests now extend from media and entertainment to payment systems and mobile systems, spoke about using innovation for the good of mankind and the role of universities in cultivating talent. He also described how his hometown of Shenzhen had transformed from a centre of manufacturing to a forward-looking technology hub.

“Real innovation improves human lives,” said Chen, who also suggested summit delegates should look into the benefits of Bhutan’s happiness index.

A subsequent panel discussion involved Peter Mathieson, president of University of Hong Kong; Anna Mauranen, vice-rector of the University of Helsinki; and Guaning Su, president emeritus of Nanyang Technology University. They discussed the importance of inter-disciplinary collaboration within universities and with outside experts. For example, the study of water quality and conservation practices relevant to rice farming required expertise from several different areas.

In other respects, Max Lu, president and vice-chancellor of the University of Surrey, said it was vital to prepare students for a world where the forces globalisation and competition were unavoidable.

“Giving students the confidence to try new things, create new knowledge and contribute to society is a fundamental role of a university,” Lu said.

A discussion on “models of strategic leadership: turning ideas into impact” led by THE editor John Gill was similarly instructive. In this case, the panellists were Tateo Arimoto, director of the science, technology and innovation programme at Japan’s National Graduate Institute for Policy Studies; Paul Feigin, assistant to the president for strategic projects, Technion, Israel Institute of Technology; Indu Shahani, founding dean of the Indian School of Management and Entrepreneurship (ISME); and Alexander Wai Ping-kong, PolyU’s vice-president (research and development). They agreed that inspired leadership drives motivation among students and faculty members which, in turn, leads to better results. More specifically, Professor Wai explained how close inter-departmental collaboration at PolyU has led to involvement in space programmes and breakthroughs in railway technologies, textiles and medical science. 

Known for his ability to translate research findings into successful business ventures, Hermann Hauser, co-founder of Amadeus Capital Partners, explained how intelligent machines and robots will increasingly disrupt accepted ways of doing things. Driverless cars are just one example.

“Raising the benchmark is not too hard,” said Hauser, adding that cameras and radar on self-driving cars track more than 200 points in a 360-degree sweep. 

Noted entrepreneur Candace Johnson, founder of Loral-Teleport Europe and Europe Online, among numerous other ventures, looked at some of the fundamentals for getting a new business off the ground. In her view, a healthy disregard for risk is essential and budding entrepreneurs need to think big and be flexible.

“If you achieve a small part of your dream, it is still worth a lot,” Johnson said.

Day two of the summit began with Henry Lane Fox, co-founder and chief executive of Founders Factory, addressing the subject of artificial intelligence (AI) and its many possibilities. His firm supports and advises tech start-ups and, over the next few years, aims to help up to 200 in different sectors through better use of AI.

Following on, a panel chaired by Tony Chan, president of the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, considered the graduate skills gap and how much of a concern it should be.

The panellists included Michael Fung, group director and chief data officer of the planning group for SkillsFuture, Singapore; Catherine Koshland, vice-chancellor for undergraduate education at the University of California, Berkeley; and Michelle Potts, the British Council’s business director, education and society, for South Asia.

Chan wondered whether employers were expecting universities to train students to meet certain narrow requirements, which could result in a lack of diversity among graduates and too restricted an outlook.

However, against the background of geopolitical issues and climate change, Jacques Biot, president of Ecole Polytechnique, said universities have an important role to play in ensuring students possess the skills employers look for and that they understand how the job market will change over the next few years.

“Disruptive business models and technology require students to have the leadership qualities to thrive in a changing world,” Biot said.

Illustrating that, Greg Simon, former executive director of the White House Cancer Moonshot Task Force, which was spearheaded by former US vice president Joe Biden, explained the initiative’s key aim. That was to “let science happen”, accelerating cancer research by making more therapies available to more patients, thus improving the ability to prevent the disease and detect it at an early stage.

“Research is being changed to achieve in five years what was thought could be achieved in 10 years,” Simon said. “It can be done.”

A later discussion focused on universities and how to measure their impact and was chaired by Phil Baty of THE. Panel members included Arun Sharma, deputy vice-chancellor (research and commercialisation) at Queensland University of Technology; Lluis Tort, former president/vice-rector for strategic projects and planning, European Consortium of Innovation Universities/ Universitat Autonoma de Barcelona; and Angelina Yuen, PolyU’s vice-president (student and global affairs). Yuen noted that social impact should be regarded as a significant part of any university rankings system and that service learning is a now mandatory, credit-bearing element of PolyU courses.

“We have more than 60 service learning programmes involving about 4,000 students,” she said.

Concluding the summit, Billy Wong, senior data scientist with THE, led a discussion on the ways universities operating in radically different environments can benchmark and compare. Particular attention was drawn to the wider socio-economic aspects of a university’s impact, and an informal vote indicated the best measure of the impact is post-graduation jobs and the contribution former students make to society.