Information Services Office   19.8.2012


Prof. Wong Kam-fai (Photo by Keith Hiro)
Newsletter No. 401 > Thus Spake... > Wong Kam-fai on Innovation

Wong Kam-fai on Innovation


What is creativity from an engineering point of view?

From an engineering point of view, innovation is the use of technology to turn creativity into reality, to bring the value of technology outside the lab for the benefit of society. Industry does it. Academia does it. But the motives are different. The former stresses application; it is driven by the market and monetary returns. The latter emphasizes conceptual design and breakthroughs in research; its objective is to develop new theories and knowledge. There is inevitably a gap between the two, and it is the responsibility of the government, industry, university authorities and researchers to narrow that gap, in order that technological innovations can be popularized, leading to improved efficiency and better quality of life in society. The Chinese University’s educational mission has always been to conduct comprehensive teaching and research in all disciplines and to actively promote the development of innovative technology.

How has the University fared in this regard?

The University has a tried and tested system that provides technology transfer services to students with the creativity and the will to become entrepreneurs. The aim is to give them the appropriate guidance while cultivating leaders of the future for industry. The University holds frequent interdisciplinary activities, such as the Vice-Chancellor’s Cup of Student Innovation, to identify talent and technology with potential. Then through its vast alumni and social network, it will put the award-winning students in touch with the right people, and create commercial opportunities for them. The University also collaborates with downstream partners, such as Hong Kong Science Park, to help students set up companies to bring their ideas to fruition.

What's the situation for technology transfer in Hong Kong's institutions of higher learning?

The local institutions of higher learning devote a lot of effort to promoting innovative technology, but with varying aims. Some focus on application; some on basic academic research. The former is more proactive and has closer links with industry. The Chinese University belongs to the latter. From its base in teaching and research, the University invests resources to help the would-be inventors among its students to realize their potential. In terms of marketing, CUHK takes part in technology fairs every year, including the China Hi-Tech Fair, the Hong Kong Electronics Fair, to showcase the creative outcomes of its researchers and students.

What is the situation of government, industry, academia and research collaboration in mainland China?

The mainland is more zealous than Hong Kong about promoting technology research. Once a policy is launched, the provincial and municipal governments would complement the efforts of the central government and render active support to national development. The 12th Five-Year Plan for Science and Technology Development is a case in point. That said, CUHK has been keeping in pace with the mainland, by encouraging faculty to take part in its important research projects and contribute to the country, and by capitalizing on its own research strengths and reputation to attract research funds and talent from the mainland and overseas, and bring about international collaboration.

You've been working at CUHK for almost 20 years. How does it feel?

I started working here when I returned from Germany in 1993. Not long after I joined, the Faculty of Engineering put me in charge of innovation promotion and technology transfer in the Centre for Innovation and Technology. Over the years, the centre has slowly built a system of innovation with the support of the Faculty's staff and teachers, and our achievements today show that our hard work has paid off. I get along with my colleagues, and the support of academic and business partners from other institutions has made my job easier than it would have been. I feel tremendously gratified when my students do well outside or receive compliments on their work.

What are your hopes for the future?

Looking into the future, I hope the government can set up a Bureau of Technology as soon as possible and draw up an effective innovation and technology policy, so that the research results of CUHK and other institutions can be more widely applied to industry. I believe that with the collaboration of government, industry, academia and research, Hong Kong's economy will scale new heights.

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