Newsletter Special Issue (2002)

Open Letter to Staff and Students of The University Dear colleagues and students: The remarks made by Prof. Arthur K.C. L i, Secretary for Education and Manpower, on the merger o f CUHK and HKUST last Friday (4th October) have triggered very strong responses from various quarters on and off the campus. I feel it my duty to tell you my views and stand on this issue. To the institutions involved, any merger is a matter of prime importance, which has to be handled with utmost solemnity. I note that our former vice- chancellor, who is now Secretary for Education and Manpower, called himself a 'matchmaker' when talking about the merger. He saw it as a means to help the two universities, in a state of union, to acquire world-class status. He was therefore most enthusiastic, so much so that he even set the earliest and latest possible dates for the 'marriage'. As the chiefpublic officer responsible for education in Hong Kong, he has every reason to push for the realization of something he considers highly desirable for the tertiary education sector. And, as a matchmaker, he went as far as proposing 2005 or 2008 as the year for the marriage to be solemnized. I think we must interpret this as the well-wishes o f a zealous matchmaker. But very obviously, the success of any merger wi ll have to be achieved through the free will of CUHK and HKUST. There is a need for the two parties to understand and appreciate each other before any union can be pursued. Just as no timeline can be set for a marriage based on free will, no other party but CUHK and HKUST can decide on the why, how, and when of the merger. Dear colleagues and students, as vice-chancellor of the University, I feel duty-bound to consider all possible means to enhance the competitiveness of CUHK at the global level. Sure, the University has achieved much over the last 40 years, and is now second to no other university in Hong Kong. But the impact of globalization on higher education is stronger than ever, and the challenges it poses are far greater than the sum total of what was exerted by industrialization and urbanization in the past. Today, with the intensification of globalization in higher education, no university can claim superiority in isolation. Real competition exists only at the global level, the international level. To be number one in Hong Kong doesn't mean much to our university, or, for that matter, to any other local university. That is why we at The Chinese University of Hong Kong have always aspired to be a university of world-class status. World-class status can never be achieved by wishful thinking, nor is there any short-cut to it. But I do believe the successful integration or merging of CUHK and HKUST might invigorate both parties to such an extent that their accession to world-class status can be expedited. For a university with a mere 11 years of history behind it, HKUST's remarkable achievements are plain for all to see. We on our part signed an agreement on academic partnership with HKUST as early as 1999, allowing students from both universities to take courses offered by the other party. History also tells us that many of the Chinese University's pioneering institutions have now been widely adopted by other local universities. Examples include the graduate school system, general education programmes, and a flexible credit unit system. The merger or integration of CUHK and HKUST, both being research universities, i f achieved through sensible means according to a reasonable schedule, w i l l be mutually complementary and beneficial. I am convinced that a successful merger of the two will resculpt the entire higher education landscape of Hong Kong. Dear colleagues and students, I personally support the idea of a CUHK-HKUST merger and consider it well worthy of exploring to say the least. I have given this idea a lot of thought, and my views were made known to the University community for the first time in the 4th October issue of the CUHK Newsletter (in an interview which I gave some two weeks earlier). I have also exchanged views informally wi th Prof. Paul Chu, president o f HKUST, and we both agree that the merger is a strategy of development worthy of exploration. In his recent letter to the teachers and students of HKUST, President Chu said that it is 'arguable that a merger with CUHK is a possible way to achieve that objective' ('that objective' referring to 'world- class university status'). But of course, no formal agreement or timeline has been reached regarding the merger. Let me stress that having an idea or an opinion is one thing, but turning that into reality is another. I fully understand that as vice-chancellor, while it is my responsibility to plan the university's future (and that may include the merger), it is not for me to decide on matters of such monumental significance on behalf of the University. The decision of whether the University should or can merge or integrate with HKUST is to be made by the University Council in consultation with the University's teachers, students, and alumni. I belong to The Chinese University, but The Chinese University does not belong to me. It belongs to the CUHKers at the University today, and the CUHKers who have graduated. A matter of such magnitude as the merger should be, and would definitely be, wi de ly discussed and debated throughout the University before a decision is reached, through regular consultative channels. The fact is, to turn an idea to concrete and feasible plans and procedures for its realization is an extremely complex undertaking. What are the benefits? What are the disadvantages? What will we gain? What will we lose? How desirable is the merger? How feasible? I f we are merging, how should we merge? What timeline should we follow? A l l these issues need meticulous research and careful deliberation. That is why I will set up a Special Task Force to explore the desirability and feasibility of a CUHK-HKUST merger as soon as possible. Dear colleagues and students, I am writing this letter to express my views and position regarding the merger in the most direct way. I hope to see us all discussing and participating in this matter seriously with an eye on mapping the future of the University together. Thank you all. Ambrose Y.C. King Vice-Chancellor 6th October 2002 CUHK Newsletter Special Issue 7th October 2002