Hong Kong heaven for academics

三月 31, 1995

Huw Richards's report on The THES-sponsored conference about the future of Hong Kong (THES, March 24) provided little about the kind of future awaiting those planning to remain here post-1997, particularly those working in higher education.

More particularly, there was nothing of substance for those young people who might just be thinking of beginning their academic careers here. As far as the "establishment" speakers were concerned, torch-bearers in the shape of Sir David Ford and Henry Tang, we appear to have had the usual anodyne stuff. Your readers would be wise to consider that government bureaucrats all over the world, routinely restrict freedoms unless closely monitored, also, that the world's press is dominated by the way things look from Washington.

Elsewhere in your report, the gloom and doom merchants were having their usual all-expenses- paid field day, equating human rights here as possibly bad for business, and business as bad for human rights. Happily, the reality for academics in Hong Kong is somewhat different. First, the continuing healthy budget surpluses generated by the economy, have meant that the expansion in higher education has been funded generously by government, such that salaries and fringe benefits for staff remain the envy of the world. The buildings and the equipment are here, as are competent technical and administrative staff to assist in running the seven university institutions.

Further, the equally massive expansion in research funding for the universities means that research grants for well-conceived proposals have an excellent chance of being funded. Finally, students here want to learn.

As to the future, it is important to compare Hong Kong with other parts of the world, particularly those at similar stages of development, before concluding that the future here is in some relative sense, particularly gloomy. Our relationship with China is an inescapable fact, and much to be welcomed considering the wealth it has brought Hong Kong. China is going through the equivalent of an industrial revolution. Hong Kong is part of China and as it has enjoyed the fruits of China's success so far, so she may have to shoulder some of the burdens associated with that success, a measure of control and reciprocal agreement, to ensure the great engines of change do not overheat and the flywheels disintegrate.

The real fear for the future of Hong Kong is fear itself, that the constant doom-and-gloom propaganda will make people cut and run, before they have a true measure of the changes that confront them. Britain and China are not helping in this respect by retreating into megaphone diplomacy, to score points for ambitious politicians; in fact, they are achieving much in spite of their competing ideologies.

Alan King, Deputy president

The Hong Kong Polytechnic University (writing in a personal capacity)

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