Generation 40s – 四十世代

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Next head of HKU, Zhang Xiang, must lay down a strict code of conduct for students and staff

CommentInsight & Opinion

Tony Kwok says the incoming head must guide the University of Hong Kong – once Asia’s finest – to adopt an attitude of zero tolerance towards disrespectful and rowdy conduct in the name of academic freedom


To many insider observers, the most unfortunate incident in the recent history of the University of Hong Kong was the student protest controversy over the visit of Li Keqiang, then a vice-premier, in 2011, which played a part in Professor Tsui Lap-chee’s decision to resign the vice-chancellorship in 2014.

Under Tsui’s leadership from 2002 to 2014, Hong Kong’s oldest university was acknowledged as being among the world’s best institutions, and arguably Asia’s finest. Tsui is regarded as one of the university’s best vice-chancellors; had he stayed, he could have taken the university to greater heights.

Today, the university is no longer Asia’s best, and some of its faculty and students appear more focused on taking part in social movements and political activities than on academic studies. Their irresponsible behaviour has brought the university into disrepute.

Hence, one would have expected a big welcome for the appointment of a renowned scientist to replace the outgoing incumbent vice-chancellor Peter Mathieson. Zhang Xiang, a professor of mechanical engineering at the University of California, Berkeley, a top US university, has a distinguished track record in scientific research. Yet, his appointment was greeted with disdain by some in Hong Kong simply because he was born on the mainland.

Some said his English is not good enough, even though he has taught in America for years.

Dr William Cheung Sing-wai, chairman of HKU’s academic staff association, even said: “I’m worried that under his leadership, HKU will just be another Peking University or Tsinghua University.”

In Zhang’s interview with the media, questions focused on how he would uphold the core value of academic freedom in the university. Specifically, he was asked if he would allow Hong Kong independence to be freely discussed on campus. Zhang’s answer was short and sharp: while reaffirming the importance of academic freedom, he said it has its own limits.

Zhang should lay down the limits soon after taking office. I propose that he revises the code of conduct for staff and students, drawing from the experience of UC Berkeley, where he has been teaching.

The university lists 12 values that all staff and students must uphold in its “Standards of Ethical Conduct”. They include: individual responsibility and accountability; respect for others; compliance with laws and regulations; and the proper use of university resources.

Professor Tsui Lap-chee stepped down as HKU vice-chancellor in 2014. Under his leadership, Hong Kong’s oldest university was acknowledged as Asia’s finest. Photo: Nora Tam

If the above values are incorporated into the HKU’s code of conduct, the following disgraceful activities – which have happened in various Hong Kong universities and schools over the past few years – would be banned from campus:

 Anonymous posters with provocative language displayed.

 Activities promoting Hong Kong independence, or any other political activities.

 University staff getting involved in political activities.

 Disrespectful behaviour at school events, such as a graduation ceremony.

 Abusive shouting at university council members and government officials.

Rather than taking a lenient stance, as in the past, the university should now take a zero-tolerance approach to all breaches of the code of conduct.

The new vice-chancellor faces a tough road ahead. He will need public support to prevail against the localist forces in the university and local media – the same forces that caused the university to lose one of its greatest leaders, Professor Tsui, in 2014.

Tony Kwok is an honorary fellow and adjunct professor at HKU Space, and an adviser to Our Hong Kong Foundation


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Four challenges ‘Greater Bay Area’ planners must overcome to ensure success

CommentInsight & Opinion

Feng Da Hsuan and Liang Hai Ming highlight some issues for planners to consider for the Greater Bay Area, including how to tackle the complexities of the massive project, attract talent and prevent a brain drain in smaller cities, and ensure a safety net for failure

The release of a “Greater Bay Area” development plan for linking Hong Kong and Macau with nine cities in Guangdong province is expected to be released early this year. The plan may be a sign of China’s ascent, but this area will be starkly different from, for example, the San Francisco, New York and Tokyo bay areas. While it is all within one nation, it also links two “systems”, three currencies and multiple cities. This makes the plan highly convoluted, and such complexity could pose far more challenges than those found in other bay areas.

Here are four potential issues. First, because the Greater Bay Area consists of cities in Guangdong province, plus Hong Kong and Macau, any kind of amalgamation will be one of multiplicities, rather than natural affinities, and this could mean additional obstacles to the flow of talent, finance, logistics, information and so on.

It has been suggested that the euro-zone experience could provide a good lesson where, to coordinate nations of vast differences as seamlessly as possible, it was necessary to jointly organise and empower a “coordination team” to overcome the difficulties. Indeed, having such a team, at least in principle, should lead to greater affinities. This is why a single currency, the euro, and a single political system known as the European Parliament were established.

One obvious difficulty that the euro zone faced is that the economically weaker nations within it, such as Greece and Portugal, raised their debt levels greatly while under the euro-zone protection umbrella. The actions of these nations resulted in a series of debt crises which led to doubts about the sustainability of the euro zone, roiling financial markets, including those outside Europe. The European debt crisis and Brexit, plus the drama of potential exits by Greece and the Netherlands, have been directly or indirectly due to such actions.

These nations have chosen to leave, or have considered leaving, the euro zone so they can individually decide on exchange rates in order to increase exports and promote economic development. How to overcome or prevent the same fate in the Greater Bay Area is something that needs to be addressed upfront.

Also, the Greater Bay Area may not be able to attract talent within China and worldwide for sustainable development. It will take much more than just money and new projects to make the area a global centre of technological innovation, advanced manufacturing and maritime, finance and trade; what is needed is talent across the board and a global mindset.

There are two main issues to address in this respect. The first is to understand that the vision and ideas of foreign talent, especially people from Europe and North America, are quite different from those in China. Besides requiring high-paying jobs, comfortable living conditions and a pleasant working environment, these people also want a clear project mission, a step-by-step plan and well-designed project funding.

Unfortunately, this is the opposite of how Chinese operate. Generally speaking, while Chinese may have an initial grand vision, they tend to “plan along the way” rather than long-term and without already designated funds. The leadership of this grand development scheme will need great wisdom to bridge the gap.

Second, in euro-zone nations, due to workers’ low wages in the “have-not” nations, talent and indigenous finance tend to flow naturally toward the “haves”, causing a downward spiral for the others, making them even poorer. A similar situation may occur in the Greater Bay Area, where talent in cities outside Guangzhou, Hong Kong and Macau could flow towards those three. This could force such cities to institute favourable policies to retain indigenous talent, which could widen the gap between rich and poor in those cities, resulting in social instability.

The Greater Bay Area could also affect the surrounding regions. Developing the bay area could have a beneficial effect on surrounding, less-developed areas. However, an undesirable “echo effect” may occur; that is, production in those areas could flow back into the Greater Bay Area because of the emphasis on its development, causing the surrounding regions to suffer a loss of resources and production.

Finally, to become a truly successful world-class technological region, there must be a safety net for failure.

Across the world, whether in science, technology or entrepreneurship, failure is the norm and success the exception. If a region allows innovators to fail without a safety net to allow them to rebound, it will not only destroy innovation but also the innovative spirit. This safety net could be in the form of the protection of company dissolution, bank arrears as well as tax burdens. In the United States, San Diego is a successful biotech innovation centre, and one reason for its success is its robust safety net.

It is also important to underscore that the Greater Bay Area will not be the sole new innovation centre in China. Without a safety net, those who want to and are able to rebound may be attracted to other centres. It must be remembered that failure is not forever. After all, innovators who are willing to try again probably have enough energy, creativity and wisdom to succeed in the future.

It is our earnest hope that the Greater Bay Area development plan will address some or all of the challenges mentioned here.

We firmly believe that the designers have the wisdom, experience and vision to create a successful Greater Bay Area with Chinese characteristics, and propel it into the ranks of world-class bay areas internationally.

Feng Da Hsuan is senior adviser of the China Silk Road iValley Research Institute. Liang Hai Ming is chairman and chief economist of the institute

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Education innovation gets a Nobel of its own in the Yidan Prize

South China Morning Post
CommentInsight & Opinion

Bernard Chan says the winners of the Yidan Prize – one of many generous initiatives by mainland business leaders – have ideas that can change education for the better in the world, including Hong Kong. These ideas deserve a bigger platform

If you have never heard of the Yidan Prize, you probably will in the years to come. It was founded in 2016 by Charles Chen Yidan, co-founder of Tencent, to honour individuals worldwide for forward-looking innovations in education.

I attended the inaugural awards ceremony here in Hong Kong earlier this month. Among the speakers were Cherie Blair, founder of the Cherie Blair Foundation for Women, who made some powerful points about the importance of educating girls.

The prize is a big step towards giving education innovators the type of status they deserve. Not only that, the event also opened my eyes to the growing role that mainland Chinese business figures now play in philanthropy and global social development.

In the mainland, business leaders are involved in the central government’s renewed campaigns on rural poverty alleviation. Big tech companies like Tencent, Alibaba and are entering agreements with local officials to support development in specific rural areas in China.

Mainland tycoons are also becoming increasingly involved in charitable activities overseas. These tycoons for the most part have humble origins, and some went through real hardship early in life. They have seen their businesses expand at home and, increasingly, overseas. Successful entrepreneurs with a global outlook, they seem to genuinely want engagement with and to contribute to the wider world.

Jack Ma, the founder of the Alibaba Group (which owns the South China Morning Post), started the Jack Ma Foundation in 2014 to promote educational, environmental and other causes as far away as Africa. He is also behind the Alibaba Entrepreneurs Fund (I sit on its Hong Kong governing board), which invests in and mentors start-ups here and in Taiwan.

As for Chen, he has endowed his Yidan Prize with HK$2.5 billion. International judges and advisers will select two laureates (individuals or small teams) per year. These winners will share HK$60 million a year in prizes, half in cash and half for research funds.

We all follow the Nobel Prize and other international awards that bring fame to the people responsible for breakthroughs in medicine or physics. But surely education is at least as important as, for example, genetics or astronomy, and individuals doing pioneering work in education deserve a high profile.

The first two laureates were psychologist Carol Dweck of the US, for work on students’ motivational mindsets, and Vicky Colbert of Colombia, founder of the Escuela Nueva (“New School”) movement of innovative primary schools in Latin America. By highlighting achievements by relatively unknown figures, the awards remind us how we usually overlook education as a key to the well-being of humanity.

Dweck’s work has been crucial to furthering understanding of how kids rise to challenges and enjoy learning. Her ideas could be stimulating in Hong Kong, with its rigid attitudes about what makes a child “intelligent” or “hard-working”.

Colbert’s achievement was creating a model of school management, teaching and community involvement that has spread through poor areas in Latin America, India and the Philippines. Designed for less developed countries, her methods are an impressive reminder that money is just one part of what makes a school successful.

The Yidan Prize Foundation has commissioned a study on the effectiveness of education systems around the world. Rather than focus on test scores, it looks at the inputs. The resulting Worldwide Educating for the Future Index is a reminder that Hong Kong’s own record is mixed. Despite what some think, we do very well in terms of teacher quality – ranking with Finland and South Korea.

However, Hong Kong lags in curriculum and assessment methods. This will not surprise anyone who has followed the ups and downs of education reform over the years.

The Yidan Prize is a major addition to initiatives like the WISE Prize for Education launched in 2011, and the Global Teacher Prize launched in 2014. Hopefully, it will build on their work in giving advances in education worldwide recognition and a “Nobel” status.

Bernard Chan is convenor of Hong Kong’s Executive Council