On 23 June 2016, Britain held a referendum on whether to stay or leave the European Union. Many people woke up the following day confused and dumbfounded; and it would probably take a while before the full impact of the referendum results would be felt. In the meantime, Britain is busy looking for a new Prime Minister.
On that same day in HKU, Convocation held an Ordinary General Meeting (OGM) which included an election to fill eight vacancies on the Standing Committee (SC). The results were announced after the Meeting and uploaded on the website afterwards. The eight elected SC Members include six alumni who stood for election the first time. Interestingly, the six alumni were known to the local media as coming from one group with strong views on certain issues on the University and had been reported in the media as such. At least one reporter from a local newspaper waited outside the meeting room throughout our OGM. She asked me after the election results were announced whether I was concerned that newly elected SC members with political positions would affect the function of Convocation. The following was my reply, which she reported briefly the next morning in her newspaper. It does not even cause a ripple in the media and I still retain my job as Chairman.
I said that Convocation exists specifically to provide a forum for discussion on any subjects affecting the University. All HKU graduates are known to be able to think independently and to hold individual views. It follows that there would always be different opinions on any subject. Politics is everywhere, but politics often may not help to solve problems. The alumni who stood for election to the SC are primarily interested in helping their alma mater to solve problems and to reach greater heights. More candidates in an election implies that more alumni are interested to help the University, which is a healthy sign and cannot be bad.
I congratulate and welcome the SC Members returned in the last OGM, and I hold high hopes that the new team will work together in the best interest of the University and of Hong Kong. The new SC has already had their first meeting last week during which Members agreed to invite recently retired SC Members and other alumni interested in participating in Convocation work to join as members of Sub-Committees. The SC has approved the setting up of six Sub-Committees and we certainly need help from more interested alumni.
Our SC Members were indeed busy last week. Apart from holding a full SC Meeting, many of the Members attended the Alumni Leaders Lunch during which Professor Peter Mathieson and two members of his Senior Management Team, Executive Vice-President (Administration and Finance) Dr. Steven Cannon and Vice-President and Pro-Vice-Chancellor (Academic Staffing and Resources) Professor Terry Au, gave presentations on HKU’s vision for the next decade. This annual luncheon has been held for over ten years in running at the Hang Seng Penthouse in Central, and one meets interesting people there: a number of those attending wear many hats, and one discovers some rather unique alumni bodies that hardly hit the news.
Speaking of news, HKU was once again in the news, not for the best reasons, this time on its ranking in a public opinion poll. An education website Education18.com has ranked HKU top on a public opinion poll for 15 years in running, with the Chinese University (CUHK) second and the University of Science and Technology (HKUST) third, but last week, it ranked HKUST first, with CUHK remaining second and HKU third. Professor Peter Mathieson has often warned about university rankings. For example, he often says that HKU ranks third in the world on internationality, after Qatar and Luxemburg, with Macau ranking sixth, suggesting that size of the territory within which the university is situated does matter, and implying that the criteria employed in ranking exercises often have an impact on the results. In the case of a public opinion poll which operates somewhat like a popularity contest, one must factor into the equation the fickleness of public opinion.
I suggest that at the end of the day, it is the opinion of parents sending their children to local universities and the choices of the students themselves that matter most. I have said in this column that last year the best local students were fighting to get into HKU and HKU was getting them. I am optimistic and hopeful that the scene would be largely similar in 2016 and beyond, as long as the main stakeholders of the University continue to support, maintain and uphold the values of the University and contribute towards its mission and vision.
Convocation members would be aware that the Review Panel on University Governance held a number of sessions with stakeholders of the University in June. In particular, the Panel invited all alumni to a session which lasted one hour and a half, but not too many members turned up to meet the Panel on that occasion. Separately, the Panel met the SC Members during which we stressed that Convocation is a very important stakeholder of the University such that it should be consulted if substantial changes in the governance structure is contemplated. My understanding is that the Panel would report to the Council in a few months and it would then be for the Council to take the necessary next steps in the best interest of the University.
I wish you an enjoyable summer, and I hope to talk to you again soon.