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The Installation of Professor Paul Lam Kwan-sing, the 6thPresident of The Open University of Hong Kong

Address by Professor Paul Lam Kwan-sing, President of The Open University of Hong Kong

18 May 2021

Pro-Chancellor, Council Chairman, Court and Council Members, distinguished guests, colleagues and students.
 
Thank you, Reggie. I am touched and humbled by your very warm introduction.
 
I would like to start by saying a bit about myself.
 
I grew up in Chai Wan Resettlement Estate and attended the Chai Wan Government Primary School. The medium of instruction was Chinese. However, our English teacher was a very special woman. She made us speak English in her class all the time. Maybe you can imagine how tough that was for her.
 
But for me, it was a blessing. When I began secondary school, where the medium of instruction was English, it was much less painful than it might otherwise have been. My English teacher had prepared me very well for the transition.
 
At secondary school, I met an unforgettable mathematics teacher, who was a Jesuit. He made this difficult subject fun and lovable. I got top marks in the first mathematics test, which had a huge impact on my confidence! Mathematics led to science and science led to university. My mathematics teacher was a true inspiration.
 
At university, I spent a lot of time in the University Debating Team. To ensure that I would graduate with a good honours degree, I decided to undertake an optional research project to boost my grades, and that’s how I met my supervisor. We did research together: collecting data, testing hypotheses, drawing conclusions. It was a very exciting and rewarding experience for me.
 
When I graduated, I had the chance to join the civil service, or the ICAC, or other careers. All of them had great prospects. But my supervisor at university had sparked my interest, and instead of choosing those equally promising paths, I chose life in academia, immersing myself in research and teaching ever since.
 
What transpired is clear. It was that these incredibly supportive teachers had revealed to me that education should be fun, valuable and meaningful, and most importantly, it could be inspirational.
 
After a long career in higher education, as a teacher, researcher and administrator, I have come to realise that the essence of life at a university must be at all times “quality”, in teaching, research and administration.
 
But what does “quality” really mean in the context of higher education?
 
Here is a story for you. I ran internship and mentorship schemes for undergraduates earlier in my career. Just like other internship schemes, we arranged for students to join companies for a few months, usually over the summer. But we found after a while that the arrangements had become just routine and that the professors and the students were not getting the best out of the schemes. We felt that we had to do more.
 
So rather than just leave the students at the company for their internship and then see them again at the start of the new semester, we tried to add “quality” whenever and wherever we could.
 
We followed up every week, which was a lot of extra work. We talked to the students, asking them to write short reflective reports; we chatted with the employers; we looked for weaknesses in the schemes and we improved. We searched for resources, raised donations, and we made good use of the resources we already had. In simple terms, we lifted our game one level up in every aspect of our work, and that is how we made a difference.
 
The feedback from the students improved. They told us that their experience on the internships genuinely shaped the start of their careers, and gave them a leading edge as they progressed through their professional lives.
 
So, quite simply, we added “quality” by listening, reflecting, and taking action, a continuous process that, although labor intensive, yielded clear and solid results.
 
Indeed, this experience convinced me that in higher education we should aspire at all times to seek feedback directly from students and other stakeholders. What factors are the most important? How can we improve? Are the courses and programmes relevant to the students’ career aspirations and to their lives after graduation? We should check in with recent graduates, too, to find out if our academic offerings have genuinely boosted their career options. If not, we have to respond and improve.
 
With these thoughts in mind, one of my main goals as president is to ensure that we continue to enhance our capability to provide high-quality education to our students. I will endeavour to create more space and opportunities for faculty, staff and students to interact. Good communication leads to more effective leadership, which leads to more successful teaching and learning.
 
In addition, to further promote a richer academic culture, I will ensure that our academic development plans are student-centred, faculty-driven, and as far as practicable, professionally oriented. To this end, I will support more state-of-the-art technologies for enhancing teaching and learning, especially for field-based activities; and, in alignment with the OUHK Strategic Plan, I will give my backing to initiatives that encourage our students to receive greater global exposure, promote innovative ideas and enhance technological capabilities.
 
Research is another important piece of my overall vision for enhancing quality. Research is close to my heart. I have spent most of my life in laboratories and in the field working on my particular area of interest: environmental chemistry and toxicology, especially in managing the production and use of toxic chemicals. At the OUHK, I appreciate that our research strengths lie in specific areas, and I am sensitive to the practical constraints in developing the OUHK into a research-intensive university in the foreseeable future. To optimise the use of our hard-earned resources, I will encourage impactful research that has the potential to genuinely benefit the people of Hong Kong and the region.
 
It is true that not every university has the deep pockets of an Ivy League school. We don’t have the resources at the OUHK that others might have. However, we do have deep reserves of commitment to quality education, as well as a wonderful foundation and reputation built by past leadership teams, faculty, staff and, of course, our students.
 
I will be starting my term of office as president at a very important moment in the history of this institution. From September, the OUHK will be called Hong Kong Metropolitan University. I plan to use this milestone as a platform to reach out to potential and current students, alumni and stakeholders, supporters and friends, to refresh our brand identity, to re-invigorate our mission and to strengthen a sense of belonging. It is a great privilege to be joining this university at such a historic moment.
 
Changing the name and the logo of a university may often be controversial, but you can rest assured that I, together with the university community, will work hard to invest real meaning into the new university title and logo.
 
All in all, if I can support our faculty to significantly raise the level of their work, I will be doing my job.
 
If I can help teachers to be better teachers in any way, I will be doing my job.
 
And, at the end of my time as president, if I hear from our students that their time at the OUHK has been useful and meaningful, and that they have become better people because of the education that they received at this University, I will have done my job.
 
That is what I am aiming for as your new president.
 
The OUHK is committed to offering innovative, affordable, high-quality education, as well as the best possible service to every one of our students. We take pride in providing open and flexible academic programmes to members of our community.
 
On a final note, as well as thanking our guests today and the countless people who have inspired me in my career, I wish to give a huge thanks to my wife, Lydia, and my daughter, Natalie, for their love and forbearance. I would also like to thank my parents, my brother, Peter, and my three sisters, Carol, Tonnie and Wendy, who did not go to university to allow their younger brother to be the first in the family to do so.
 
Thank you very much indeed and best wishes to you all.