Bulletin Vol. 3 No. 9 Apr 1967

“ CUL TURAL DESERT IS NOW MEANINGLESS !” Vice-Chancellor Li's Address to the 67th Congregation of the University of Hong Kong, April 5’ 1967. M r . Chancellor, M r . Vice-Chancellor, Ladies and Gentlemen: On behalf of Professor Cowen and myself I wish to express to all of you the pleasure we both feel at the honour conferred on us today. I am further honoured to have the oppo r t un i ty to say a few words for both of us. As the Vice-Chancellor of your young sister un i- versity I must first pay respects to our older sister. T h i s is only proper courtesy and propriety for a Chinese speaking on behalf of a Chinese University. But I do so w i t h sincere gratitude and h um i l i ty and not as a matter of mere f o rmal courtesy, for no older sister could have been more friendly or more helpful d u r i ng these early years than your university has been to mine. I f the spirit of Chinese sages were looking d own on us today, surely they must be pleased at the felicitous relationship that has existed and continues to exist between our t wo universities, an example of wh i ch is the honour you have conferred on me today. I t seems to me that i n considering the achievements you have made to date and our own development it is possible to say that intellectually speaking H o ng K o n g has come of age. T he c ommu n i ty and the Government are of course involved as well, but intellectuality rests p r i ma r i ly in and is symbolized by our two universities. I nd i v i dua l ly and in combination, we speak for the culture of the West and for that of China. Yo ur university has long had international recognition in many fields, and we are beginning to establish links that spread to Europe, the U . K . , the U . S . A. and to many universities of distinction in Asia. T h e old label of Ho ng K o ng as a cultural desert is now meaningless, whether one's roots are in the West or in the East. A l l this is very mu ch to the good, and when I say good I don't mean art for art's sake, culture for culture's sake. I mean it is good for the c ommu n i t y, good for Ho ng Ko n g. For a dynamic c ommu n i ty like Ho ng K o ng w i t h its essential inter- national outlook it is a necessity to keep step w i t h the rest of the wo r ld if we are to survive economically; it is also essential that in intellectual ferment, intellectual i n q u i ry and consequent achievement we keep pace w i t h the modern world. But at this point I sense, indeed almost hear, some people, perhaps some in this distinguished assemblage, raising a caveat. Wh at about the expense, they are asking, what about the young people we educate who then slip off to England, America or Australia, giving other countries the benefit of their education paid for by the H o ng K o ng taxpayer? Wh at about the brain drain f r om H o ng Kong? I w i l l admit that this leakage of our talent to countries overseas is a problem, but I don't think it is a serious p r ob l em unless one looks at it negatively. By negatively I mean that if in answer to the problem we should pro- pose a slower pace or even a reduction in our educational efforts. Obviously, if we provide less for the com- mu n i ty in higher education we stand to lose less in terms of our youths going overseas. But to me this is like t u r n i ng off the water because there is a leak in the pipe. No country can progress and compete in this present wo r ld of ours w i t h o ut encouraging to the fullest extent possible its intellectual life. I t may survive for a time but then w i ll inevitably fall back in the pursuit of prosperity and the good things of life. T h is is all the more true of our remarkable c ommu n i ty wh i ch is not blessed by natural resources and must depend on its human energy and ingenuity to survive. I f we go slow or back-track on education, we w i ll invite the return of the cultural desert and w i th it in due course a decline in ability to cope w i th problems and a consequent decline in all our c ommu n i t y- wide endeavours. I n my view the only way to look at the brain drain is positively. Indeed, if it w i ll not shock some of my friends who remain unconvinced, I may say that, this drain, particularly of our graduates into post- graduate studies overseas, is a good thing, or evidence of a good thing. I t is evidence that our universities are academically accepted by their sister universities abroad, and they are accepted not just by any university but by the very best. T h i n k of the alternative situation in wh i ch none of our university graduates were accepted or welcome abroad. The re wou l d, indeed, be no brain drain, but the result wou ld be disastrous for Ho ng Kong. T h e only way to correct the so-called leakage is to improve the quality and facilities of our institutions. I t w i ll not be a brain drain if (1) Western scholars are w i l l i ng to come for reasonable periods of time and (2) the H o ng K o n g and Chinese scholars now wo r k i ng abroad can be attracted to come and pursue their careers here. Already there is evidence that more of our students who have gone abroad are returning to Ho ng K o ng and that more scholars f r om abroad are coming here both to learn and to contribute. Professor Cowen who spent some time w i th you recently in the develop- ment of your new law school is an example of a man who while educated at Ox f o rd returned to contribute his talents and energy to his native Australia. He points up the way wh i ch we should follow in dealing w i t h the problem of “leakage”. I t is imperative for H o ng K o n g to look at the problem in this perspective, for we must be prepared to see that the so-called ‘drain’ w i l l be growing in dimensions in the future. T h is is because Ho ng K o ng no longer suffers f r om the isolation of 20 years ago when it took a mo n th to get here f r om Europe or N o r th America. To d ay we can reach L o n d on or New Yo rk in less than 24 hours. T omo r r ow when the supersonic jet age 2