Presidents' Forum - 7 Dec 2017, HK

Brought to you by:

The Hong Kong Polytechnic University

Live Report: Presidents' Forum - Transformative Power of Universities for Our Future, 7 December 2017 Hong Kong

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 07 December, 2017, 8:52am
UPDATED : Thursday, 07 December, 2017, 3:09pm

[Sponsored article]  Good morning from the Silverbox Ballroom at the Hotel ICON where we are looking forward to an exciting day of insights and various perspectives from a truly impressive line-up of speakers participating in the Hong Kong Polytechnic University (PolyU) Presidents Forum "Transformative Power of Universities for Our Future".   Today's Forum is a highlight event of the PolyU's 80th anniversary  celebrations and provides an opportunity  for invited speakers and participants to share perspectives on how universities can look to the future and transform society through re-examining their role, innovating education and research, and undertaking impactful knowledge transfer. Follow our live reporting which will feature regular updates throughout the day.




With delegates sat in their seats, Master of Ceremonies, Professor Angelina Yuen, Vice President (Student and Global Affairs) The Hong Kong Polytechnic University begins today's event by welcoming guests and speakers and proceeding to offer an outline of what delegates can expect to hear and learn. "What was supposed to be a small round table event has turned into a very large event," says Yuen adding that it is relevant that so many distinguished guests are able to attend an event to discuss such important issues.




Professor Timothy Tong begins by saying how the event has gathered together "bright minds" including heads of 22 universities from 14 different countries representing international higher education.  "Today universities are expected to do far more and ensure our students are prepared to face the challenges of the 21st century," says Tong. He adds that research has to go beyond publishing papers to research that benefits communities. "Today is a great opportunity for universities at this event to share their thoughts on ways that universities can contribute and shape the future," says Tong.  He adds how the PolyU was the first university in Hong Kong to require its students to take part in credit-baring activities that benefit the community. In the five years since the initiative was introduced over 13,000 students have taken part in the programme. "Can you imagine the levels of engagement," asks Tong. 




Professor Tong now explains how the PolyU for 80 years has been proudly keeping its promise of   "Opening Minds – Shaping the Future".  He points out how over the decades PolyU graduates have become successful movers and shakers in different fields in Hong Kong and globally. He adds how the PolyU's widespread international connections help to open the minds and broaden the perspectives of future generations. Furthermore, the PolyU's extensive research covering many areas range from improving daily life to opening up new horizons in space. Tong now elaborates how the PolyU's micro fund encourages and supports entrepreneurial spirit among PolyU students. "Some of the ideas translate into success," says Tong who then gives an example of how PolyU research has led to railway safety and efficiency. "This is the time for universities to make their mark with contributions to society," says Tong. 



With the announcement that Professor Vahan Agopyan,  University of São Paulo, Brazil has been elected as president of  his university, which drew a sustained round of applause, the professor begins his presentation raising the issues that many people wonder why it cost so much government money to operate universities. The professor says it is worth pointing out that graduates are not just taking up professions, they are also improving societies. "We need to organise ourselves so we are more institutional," says Agopyan. He gives an example of how faculty solved a water problem is Sao Paulo, but the achievement was not widely recongised. "We need to change the view that money spent on education to an investment rather than a cost," says Agopyan who has extensive experience in civil construction, with emphasis on materials and components, working mainly with fiber-reinforced materials, recent studies on quality and sustainability of construction. 



Jacques N. Biot is the Executive President of École Polytechnique begins his presentation by saying universities need to foster entrepreneurship. "This is what we are doing at École Polytechnique and we are seeing how students want to be involved in start-ups," notes Biot.  He adds that the way the university teaches in a way that supports those that don't want to be entrepreneurs. In a fast-changing world, Biot says there is a growing need to provide executive education. "The things that people learned twenty years ago are often no longer relevant," says Biot who concludes his opening presentation. 



"We need to re-express the way universities provide education," says Professor Stuart Croft, Vice-Chancellor and President, The University of Warwick, UK as he begins his presentation. He then adds with today's students likely to have many careers they need to be prepared to change and adapt to different challenges. He ways Warwick University provides a wide range of foundation courses to help students with different skills and talents to benefit from higher education. "The aim is to enable those with different skills to succeed," says Croft who stresses it is also the responsibility of universities to ensure graduates from universities continue to benefit after they graduate. subsequently as Provost. 

Outside Warwick, Stuart chairs the Board of the UK’s Equality Challenge Unit, the sector agency that leads on equalities and diversity, as well as sitting on various other boards including the Russell Group of research-intensive UK universities, and The Guild of European Research Intensive Universities (a body of 18 institutions across the continent that Warwick led in establishing).



Kihyeon Kim is a professor of Philosophy at Seoul National University says the charterer building universities offer should not be over looked. He explains in the era of   social media   there is a tendency towards cheap self-interest.  "We need to put emphasis on liberal  studies and realise that empathy and is the soil  of human interests," says Kim.



"Universities are uniquely positioned to meet the challenges of the present ranging from climate change and disruption of technologies," Professor Ian O’Connor AC was appointed Vice Chancellor and President of Griffith University. "But universities are also disruptive in our own right," he adds. He then explains how universities should adhere to social commitment and the development of humanity. "The capacity of today's universities means there is the ability to bridge the gaps and meets the challenges to achieve a robust and sustainable society," says O'Connor.  "We should embrace the challenges because the future is now," stresses O'Connor. "We should be part of the process of knowledge transformation bringing peoples of all races and ethnicity together," concludes O'Connor. As a Vice-Provost for Academic Affairs at Nazarbayev University (NU), Prof. O' Donnell works with Deans to develop academic curricula that meet international standards for undergraduate, graduate and doctoral programmes.



Pointing out how her university is only seven years old, Loretta O' Donnell Vice-Provost for Academic Affairs at Nazarbayev University (NU) at the University of Kazakhstan says at such a young university there is the opportunity to   reimagine higher education where students are the co -creators of knowledge. "We should position ourselves to provide an education where our students thrive and survive in the age of disruption," says O'Donnell who liaises with NU' s strategic partners, including Duke University, University of Wisconsin Madison, University of Warwick, National University of Singapore, Colorado School of Mines, and Cambridge University, to fulfill NU' s mission and to share NU experience with local and regional universities.  "We have students that join exchange programmes with the PolyU," informs O'Donnell. 



In response to a question from the audience asking if universities should structure their education to do more of less in the area of social responsibilities, the unanimous answer is that universities are part of society. "When a new programme is being developed it has to be looked at in terms of the connection and benefits to society," says professor Tong. Dr O'Donnell points out the challenges and relationships with society universities face are complex, and require inter-disciplinary solutions. Professor Ian O’Connor says behaviour changes are needed. For example, science needs to be translated into communities in a way it is clearly understood as providing benefits.   The speakers also emphasise there is still a need for basic science research. At the same time the speakers say there is a need for universities to push back against the damaging fake news circulated through social media that impacts universities. They also raise the benefits of universities collaborating and working together to address local, regional and global needs. On the topic of resources and there use, Professor Kim says human resources can provide a strong competitive edge in winning support and engagement from the communities they serve. Professor Tong concludes the first session commenting that it is important to engage deeper with the business and wider community while maintaining a balance of academic freedom. 



Refreshed by tea and coffee we begin this morning's second session with presentations and panel discussions looking at how can university education be transformative at both individual level for students and at societal level for the public good?


Chaired by Professor Philip C.H. Chan, Deputy President and Provost, The Hong Kong Polytechnic University the session will feature presentations by Professor Cheryl de la Rey has been the Vice-Chancellor and Principal of the University of Pretoria, South Africa, Professor Dr Zhong Zhihua was appointed as President of Tongji University (Shanghai, China, Dr Jaiyong Lee  Provost of Yonsei University, South Korea, Laurie Pearcey, Pro-Vice-Chancellor (International) at University of New South Wales, Professor Deborah Buszard is Deputy Vice-Chancellor and Principal of the University of British Columbia’s Okanagan campus in Kelowna, British Columbia, Canada, Professor Masao Kitano, Executive Vice-President for Education, Information Infrastructure, and Evaluation of Kyoto University, Dr Anita B Z Abdul Aziz, Vice Chancellor & President of the Universiti Brunei Darussalam (UBD) and Professor Xie Heping, President, Sichuan University, China.




Professor Chan leads the session by saying the first panel has set the stage for the second session. For example challenges rose by technology disruption. "Can we depend on politician to provide the solutions, probably not," says Chan. "But through universities and university education we can make a difference," adds the professor.



Professor Cheryl de la Rey has been the Vice-Chancellor and Principal of the University of Pretoria, South Africa, who arrived in Hong Kong at 7 a.m. this morning begins by pointing out a range of benefits university graduates in South Africa enjoy compared with those that for various reasons don't attend university. "At the University of Pretoria we see ourselves as the agent of change," says de la Rey. "We take a holistic approach to education," she adds explaining that community engagement is a key part of university programme.  "We want our students to make a contribution to a highly unequal society," says de la Ray. 



Professor Dr Zhong Zhihua President of Tongji university says China reform to a new level, universities must adapt and diversify. This includes human resources. "We need to adapt to the needs of undergraduate and postgraduate students," says Zhong. At the same time, he says, universities must collaborate with businesses. He says good health is another area where universities must help students maintain. "Good health is at the core of everything," says the professor who adds that leadership skill is another area universities need to help students.



A good indication of the way that education is changing, says Dr Jaiyong Lee Provost of Yonsei University, South Korea, is the way students use their smartphones and devices to check the information they are given by professors in the classroom. "We have to make sure we get our facts right," Lee says.  At Yonsei Univeristy, ways are being examined to make more extensive use of human resources. For example, offering programmes online that can be accessed by a wider group of learners. Professor Lee explains how service learning is also integrated into the university curriculum. "Social engagement is not only offered by the university, older students work with younger students to solve social issues," says Lee. The concept of social engagement also extends to a global level through international programmes including programmes with the UN. 



Laurie Pearcey, Pro-Vice-Chancellor (International) at University of New South Wales draws attention to the way STEM topics have been adopted in China and India. He says it is significant that India will provide 40 million university places by 2020. However, it is important that there are suitable and meaningful jobs for graduates, and this concept applies anywhere. "Our job should not to be the best university in the world, but the best for the world," says Pearcey. "Asia gets this," he adds. 



Stressing the importance of helping student to tackle challenges of the 21st century Professor Xie Heping, President, Sichuan University, China says solving grass roots challenges should not to be overlooked. He gives the example of his student's working with local communities to improve buildings to make them more resilient to earthquakes.  "Universities are the best place to nurture this sort of talent," says the professor. He says concentration sometimes is placed too much on producing top talent.  "Top talents are those that can be true to themselves while helping others," he adds. 



Using the analogy of a compass or a map for a journey of change, Dr Anita B Z Abdul Aziz, Vice Chancellor & President of the University Brunei Darussalam (UBD) says the UBD has made a transformation process of life-long learning. She says a main goal is to help Brunei's society to transition to a knowledge based economy driven by innovation instead of relying on oil and gas. "This does not mean that everyone needs to become a business person or an entrepreneur," stresses the vice chancellor. Dr Abdul Aziz who also makes the point that the UBD curriculum incorporates the need to benefit and protect Brunei's natural environment which includes wide sweeps of forests. "We have to be there for the upskilling of all needs, which means life-long learning," says Dr Abdul Aziz. 



Congratulating  the PolyU for being 80 years young, Professor Deborah Buszard,  Deputy Vice-Chancellor and Principal of the University of British Columbia’s begins by explaining how her campus partners with a local aboriginal community. "We have connections through everything from health to engineering," says Buszard who believes that healthcare is a vital component of strengthening other opportunities to benefit society. "We want to give out students the skills that they will take health and well-being into the businesses they will lead in the future," explains the Deputy Vice-Chancellor. She says the first year student programme includes health awareness, both mental and physical, which can have an impact on the costs to society. 



Professor Masao Kitano, Executive Vice-President for Education, Information Infrastructure, and Evaluation of Kyoto University  to help make a positive change to society, his university has initiated a number of projects  including disaster and risk management. "We also have collaborations with international universities and projects which enables active learning and practices," says Professor Masao.  "These experiences help our students to have  more personal and meaningful direction while contributing to society,"  adds the professor. 



As the clock ticks down and a reminder is sent to the speaking panel they are encroaching on the lunch break period,   the panel discussion moves to how universities can balance research with more social involvement programmes for students. Suggestions are made that universities need to play to their key strengths, but embrace opportunities to be flexible and receptive to technologies.  "There are more opportunities to mix online and offline programmes," notes Professor Xie. There are also opportunities for professors with different expertise from different universities coming together to develop programmes for non-university students outside of the normal teaching environment. Pro Vice Chancellor Pearcey supports the concept and says by using technology scale can be achieved. However, the panel raise concerns over the quality of online learning versus face-to-face learning.




Afternoon session

Refreshed from the Hotel ICON buffet, which has so many choices of food from around the world it mirrors the diverse nationalities of delegates and speakers participating in the PolyU Presidents forum. We  begin the afternoon session of the PolyU  Presidents "Transformative Power of Universities for Our Future",  with presentations and a panel discussion looking at  "The Transformative Power of Universities Through Research and Knowledge Transfer", and the key question of how can research and knowledge transfer undertaken by universities be truly transformative so as to contribute to the advancement of society?

The session will be chaired by Dr Leslie E. Wong, President, San Francisco State University (SF State), United States.  In addition to Dr Wong there are seven speakers participating in this session, namely Professor Zhou Yu, President, Harbin Institute of Technology, China, Professor Eric Maurincomme, President, INSA Lyon, France, Professor Mukhambetkali Burkitbayev, First Vice Rector, Al-Farabi Kazakh National University, Kazakhstan, Professor Donatella Sciuto, Vice-Rector, Politecnico di Milano, Italy, Professor David Ibbetson, President of Clare Hall, University of Cambridge, United Kingdom, Professor Huey-Jen Jenny Su, President, National Cheng Kung University, Taiwan and Professor James Thompson, Vice-President for Social Responsibility, The University of Manchester, United Kingdom.



Unique souvenir

Inspired by traditional Chinese paper cutting, speakers and delegates participating in the PolyU  Presidents "Transformative Power of Universities for Our Future",  forum have each been given a bookmark created by PolyU School of Design student Irene Kwong,using photochemical matching (PCM). The bookmark is designed with the "Opening Minds- Shaping the Future" pledge, which underpins the PolyU's promise in its drive to deliver outstanding education and research.



Dr Wong sets the session in motion with the comment he is in the presence of stellar company; He then asks the delegates how many web-enabled devices they have, with some audience members indicating they have four or five. He then reveals that students at his university on average have nine. He also stresses the need for more attention paid to liberal arts.  Moving to the transfer of technology knowledge he stresses it is important have an understanding of the local environment. Dr Wong then decries the woeful absence of females in the world of technology.  He says this applies to gamming to research.  Dr Wong warns of the rise of public and private  research  could cause problem  in terms of intention. 



Professor Zhou Yu, President, Harbin Institute of Technology, China, gives an overview of his Institute explaining how a strong relationship with the aerospace industry has led to many breakthroughs and problem solving. "In all areas our students have developed specialised technology and engineering capabilities," says the professor. He says collaboration has widened to include more businesses that reflect Chinese developments.  The professor  has authored or co-authored 5 books, published 480 papers with more than 5000 citations and been authorised more than 70 patents and has won “China Award for Young Scientists” and the support of “the National Science Foundation for Distinguished Young People”.



Professor Eric Maurincomme, President, INSA Lyon, France says project work is introduced early in student's five year sturdy programme. To drive creativity, INSA offers arts and sciences programme and encourage students to participate in cultural and social activities. "It helps students to be responsible," says Professor Maurincomme.  "We want to measure the impact of our research for the benefits of society," says the professor.  "We aim to ignite and invent, but it is the role of companies to spread our contribution for the benefit of society," says the professor. 



Professor Mukhambetkali Burkitbayev, First Vice Rector, Al-Farabi Kazakh National University, Kazakhstan says his university is shifting from old paradigms to new paradigms. This includes sending students overseas to learn and develop their technical and social skills. "I am pleased to say that some of our students study at the PolyU," says Professor Mukhambetkali. "It is a responsibility of our university to make sure our students have the skills to contribute to modern society," says e professor who highlights how e new Silk Road initiatives are creating new opportunities. 



Professor Donatella Sciuto, Vice-Rector, Politecnico di Milano, Italy begins her presentation by saying ethical issues are introduced early at her university. "The intention is    one direction, to raise the issues of social responsibility and social engagement," says the professor. She says a new    academic programme has been launched with multi-disciplinary approach, which involves working with non-government and government institutions. "This put us in touch with issues at different levels and areas of society," says Professor Sciuto. "We want to be a university that is not only guiding science but also social and ethical issues," concludes the professor. 



Congratulating the PolyU on its 80th anniversary, Professor David Ibbetson, President of Clare Hall, University of Cambridge, United Kingdom highlighted   that Cambridge celebrated the same landmark over 700 years ago. Saying he did not wish to be glib, he says he made the point because the founders of Cambridge University would not recognize the teaching institution today. For example, in the Cambridge area there are more than 400 companies involved in technology and knowledge transfer. However, he stresses, the transfer of knowledge needs to be meaningful. "We have to ensure the mechanisms used to transfer university research are used and benefits the wider community," says Ibbetson. 



As attention is applied on universities to justify their contribution to society, Professor Huey-Jen Jenny Su, President, National Cheng Kung University, Taiwan gives an example of how her university solved a health problem of dealing with an antidote dengue fever outbreak. "The research knowledge that was transferred has become the benchmark and the solution," says Su. "It was only through extensive research that this solution was developed," adds Su who explains the knowledge has been shared with neighbouring countries in Asia and Africa.



Originally established to train engineers during the Victorian period, Professor James Thompson, Vice-President for Social Responsibility, The University of Manchester, United Kingdom says for the last six years the university has been re-orientating to be a more socially responsible institution. "We have asked ourselves how we can provide for our students and society," says Thompson.  Describing the re-orientating process as an "inside out" transformation, the professor says it means wider interactions with society. "It means being part of the community and being a university of our city, and how we ensure quality and inclusiveness and value to society," he adds. "It is about being an anchor in society to maximise public benefit."



The panel discussion continues with Dr Lee saying the presentations have been informative and uplifting. "It is encouraging to know around the world universities are finding ways to contribute to the benefit of their communities," says Dr Lee,

An observation from the audience says social commitment from universities should be embedded deeper than being a "topic". The speakers' panel agree and makes the point there has been a wide range of examples given to indicate this is the case with universities represented at the Forum. Another audience member says the real value of knowledge transfer is to students. "They are the ones that become the 'movers and shakers'," says the delegate.   Another delegate explains how cross-sector collaboration is another area where success can be found and goes on to explain how the concept is being put into practice in China in earthquake-prone areas. 



Another issue is raised about university accountability to their communities. A delegate highlights the issue of universities selecting their students in a way that makes it difficult for less well-off students to benefit from higher education. Professor Eric Maurincomme, President, INSA Lyon, France chooses to answer and says his university actively recruits students from less-well off strata's  society.  Professor Sciuto says other than medicine and architecture and a few other disciplines, students are not selected, but recruited by results and those students with the academic capabilities are assisted with their further education. The role of social media now comes under the spotlight and its part in placing attention on the activities and responsibilities of universities. Dr Leslie E. Wong, President, San Francisco State University (SF State) says recently at his university there were issues that went viral, but lacked the detail needed for social media users to make a valid judgment. "Sometimes people use social media to make comments without using a lot of thought," says Dr Lee. 



Similar to the end of a great film or theatre production that leaves you with the feeling you want more, unfortunately we have come to the end of the PolyU Presidents "Transformative Power of Universities for Our Future", presentations and panel discussions. But what an inspiring and insightful day it has been!  Professor Philip C.H. Chan, Deputy President and Provost, the Hong Kong Polytechnic University sums up the event in his concluding remarks by  saying how the delegates and speakers representing more than 100 institutions from all over the world are a good example of how knowledge can be transferred and set the path for the future. "I think we have achieved this and have made some good points to take away," concludes Professor Chan.

Thank you for following our live reporting.