Hong Kong is a Special Administrative Region (SAR) of China, the world’s second largest economy, its most populated country and a rapidly growing power.
The complementary fundamental strengths of Hong Kong and the Chinese mainland help to power the city state’s universities to create broader economic and social impacts through innovative research and teaching.
Hong Kong’s technological infrastructure is excellent, with easy access to the latest information and perspectives from around the world. Many innovative ideas blossom in this vibrant city.
On the other hand, the Chinese mainland has an abundant supply of land and labour. It also has a booming high-tech production sector supported by soaring public investment in research and development. Many collaborative opportunities have recently opened up for Hong Kong researchers and professors.
For example, the visionary Belt and Road Initiative announced by the Chinese government offers unprecedented possibilities to advance research and nurture students in the fields of trade, financial services, construction, engineering and hotel management.
The proposal announced earlier this year to establish the Hong Kong-Shenzhen Innovation and Technology Park by the governments of the Hong Kong SAR and Shenzhen is generally considered a good move to better enable Hong Kong to become a key player in fuelling innovation in the Pearl River Delta region.
By leveraging the emerging ecosystem, the higher education sector in Hong Kong could certainly scale up its research efforts, thus making greater contributions to the development of Hong Kong and the nation.
Hong Kong has world-class universities with significant research strengths. One of these is The Hong Kong Polytechnic University (PolyU). Its research and development in the areas of space tools, railway monitoring and mega-structure diagnosis and prognosis, among others, is not only leading the way globally but has also resulted in applications with high impact.
The benefits of collaboration with institutions on the Chinese mainland can be illustrated with reference to some of PolyU’s achievements.
While the university had started its space tool research and development in early 1990s, it was the opportunity to participate in China’s lunar missions that has taken its capability in related areas of innovative research to the next level of excellence.
In 2013, experts from PolyU and the China Academy of Space Technology joined forces to develop the Camera Pointing System that was carried on board the Chang’e-3 lunar lander. The tool served to capture images of the lunar landscape and monitor the progress of the lunar rover.
Looking ahead, the two parties will further collaborate in the third phase of China’s lunar exploration programme scheduled for 2017 and in other areas of high-tech research.
Similarly, PolyU’s research in railway monitoring has proved to be instrumental in the nation’s development of transportation infrastructure.
The university developed the world’s first smart railway monitoring system based on a fibre Bragg grating sensing network more than 10 years ago. The technology was first applied in the local Hong Kong railway system and subsequently in major sections of the Beijing-Shanghai high-speed rail line, benefiting millions of people daily.
In 2014, PolyU formed a strategic partnership with Southwest Jiaotong University Railway Development to bring together the expertise of both institutions for long-term collaboration on national rail projects.
The trust of the mainland authorities is not only a morale booster but also testimony to our strength. In October last year, PolyU’s proprietary optical fibre sensing technology for railway monitoring was adopted overseas, for the first time, in the Singapore metro network.
Owing to its outstanding performance in innovation and technology, the university has won the confidence and further support of the Chinese government. In 2015, the State Ministry of Science and Technology approved the establishment at PolyU of two Hong Kong branches of the Chinese National Engineering Research Centres.
Meanwhile, the nation’s support for PolyU also enables the university to advance its mission for education.
PolyU strives to nurture responsible global citizens through service-learning. Students are required to take at least one service-learning subject to apply their professional knowledge in helping the needy before they graduate.
Universities and provincial governments in China are providing considerable support to PolyU for the conduct of these subjects on the mainland, through which PolyU students have been able to provide healthcare services, such as vision screening, for people in need in Gansu, Qinghai, Sichuan and Xinjiang, and to organise summer programmes to promote resilience among children who experienced an earthquake in Sichuan.
In sum, collaborations in innovative research and talent cultivation with the Chinese mainland will continue to enable universities in Hong Kong to generate greater impact, fulfilling their core obligation to benefit mankind.
Timothy W. Tong is president of Hong Kong Polytechnic University.