Provost’s View: UCL’s lifelong community in China and Hong Kong

6 March 2014

I have one of the best jobs in the world and certainly the best job in UK higher education. Linked to that statement, I also seem destined to write this column at 38,000 feet and 500mph.

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On this occasion, I am en route from Hong Kong to Beijing, a three-hour trip. I have been ‘on the road’ with Lori Houlihan (previously Manders – congratulations on her recent marriage) and members of her DARO team (Rebecca Reiner and Miriam Waters), Dame Hazel Genn (Dean of Laws) and my wife Liz.

First stop: Hong Kong

My view is that the objective of our mission to Hong Kong has been achieved, which was to fill the considerable Hong Kong shoes of my predecessor, Sir Malcolm Grant, and to create a positive spiral of alumni and supporter engagement in this very important (particularly to UCL) major world city.

Malcolm is a huge and much loved figure in Hong Kong, not least because of his overall success as President and Provost of UCL, but also because of his longstanding (and ongoing) membership of the University Grants Committee of Hong Kong – a very important (HEFCE-like) role.

One of the reasons for the timing of this trip was an invitation to speak at a British Council Global Education Dialogue on ‘Inclusive Leadership’. It was a really interesting meeting with a very diverse invited audience.

Renewing ties

The first speaker and chair of the first session was Joseph Sung, Vice-Chancellor of the Chinese University of Hong Kong (CHUK), and an old friend from my days as Chair of the Worldwide Universities Network (of which CHUK is a member) and a fellow gastroenterologist.

He gave an excellent overview of the future of higher education on a global scale, whereas I chaired the second session and spoke more about our long-term strategy and a different ‘impact driven’ approach to internationalisation.

The final session that I attended was heavily focused on equality and diversity and how to achieve it, involving speakers with major expertise in such issues from the world of business and commerce.

My conclusion is that although we have a lot to do (as I outlined in my last Long View), we are in the relative forefront of really tackling this at the most senior level of the institution.

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Over the next few days in Hong Kong, most of my time was spent meeting senior alumni and other supporters and friends of UCL, largely picking up from where Malcolm had left off.

Special thanks must go to Victor Chu for hosting a lunch at the Hong Kong Club and bringing together such an interesting cross section of guests; and to Winston Chu and his wife Louise for very kindly hosting a dinner to give me the opportunity to meet the key volunteers in Hong Kong.

The UCL Hong Kong Alumni Club is one of the best that I have ever come across. It has been going for many years and is led by a dedicated team of highly successful alumni, all of whom generously give their time to support UCL in many different ways. The current Chair is Andrew Ng, but he is ably supported by Winston Chu, Carl Chu, Vincent Cheung, Angelina and Vivian Lee among others.

Alumni support for students

The association has its own endowed funds and it supports a combination of scholarships and prizes for both undergraduate and postgraduate students coming from Hong Kong to UCL. But this is only one aspect of their role – they organise a farewell party for new students heading to UCL and a welcome home party on their return each year.

Best of all though, they coordinate a very thorough mentoring programme that identifies a Hong Kong-based mentor to support students throughout their time at UCL, and most importantly on their return. For all of his efforts, Andrew Ng will become a Fellow of UCL at the graduation ceremonies this coming September – an award that is very well deserved.

Our time in Hong Kong ended with a wonderful reception and dinner in the Hong Kong Sports Club. It was a full house of more than 100 alumni, with many keen to meet me as the new President and Provost of UCL, as well as each other. Again, the event was very generously supported by Vincent Cheung, for which we are very grateful. Lots of our younger alumni were present and it was wonderful to hear their very positive view of their time at UCL and to sense their continued desire to stay in touch with us and each other as lifelong members of the UCL community.

The evening was stewarded by four of our home students, all studying abroad for a year, as electrical or civil engineering students at either City University of Hong Kong or Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, while learning some Cantonese in their spare time.

So, a big thank you to Cecelia, Heba, Sophie and Toby – you were a real credit to UCL and it was fantastic to meet you all. All the UCL staff in attendance were very proud of you indeed.

On the road again

As I finish this week’s column, I am at 32,096 feet en route back to London after an action-packed 30 hours in a very smoggy Beijing.

This section of the trip served multiple purposes. The morning was spent at Peking University (PKU) meeting President Enge Wang and the Dean of Medicine as well as members of their International Office.

PKU is one of the best universities in China, vying for top slot with Tsinghua. We have been invited to become a close partner with PKU, with collaborative activity in Chinese studies, medical education and medical research. The next step is to host a visit for PKU to UCL in June this year.

Raising UCL Australia’s profile

While in Beijing we also took the opportunity to call into the Australian embassy to meet the ambassador, Frances Adamson, to seek her support for UCL Australia in Adelaide with the Chinese Ministry of Education.

The latter maintains an advisory list of overseas universities that is an important reference point for Chinese students considering overseas study – and although UCL is currently on that list, UCL Australia is not.

We received some useful advice and support that will help us to make progress on this issue, as well as some great advice on how to market UCL Australia, alongside Australian universities, in China.

Our final activity was another alumni event for some of our most prominent China-based alumni and other supporters in Beijing: my thanks to the volunteers, friends and alumni for putting this event together in downtown Beijing.

Again, there was a great sense of a UCL community coming together, sharing experiences of their time at UCL and their progress since returning to China. The highlight of the evening was a surprise ‘mask-changing’ dancer (see photo), who certainly captured the spirit of the evening.

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My final thanks go to our Consulates in Hong Kong and Beijing and the British Council in both cities for the support that we received during this trip (and continued support).

The Consul General in Hong Kong, Caroline Wilson; the Deputy Head of Mission in Beijing, Andrew Key and his wife Joanna (a UCL alumnus); and both Robert Ness (Hong Kong) and Carma Elliot (Beijing) from the British Council deserve our thanks and best wishes for the important work that they do on behalf of British higher education and UCL – a huge thank you to all of them from everyone in the lifelong community that is UCL.

Professor Michael Arthur

UCL President & Provost

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