Citations and Speeches


112th Congregation (1981)

Richard Cerdin GRIFFITHS
C.M.G., LL.D., D.Sc., M.A.

The Public Orator Dr. Arnold Chia-Loh Hsieh, B.SC., M.D., D.SC., wrote and delivered the following citation:

Mr. Chancellor, I have the honour to present Richard Cerdin Griffiths for the degree of Doctor of Laws, honoris causa.

Richard Griffiths was born in Swansea, Wales on October 21, 191.5, Trafalgar Day. He received his education at Swansea Grammar School and Jesus College, Oxford, where he majored in mathematics. Going to school with Dylan Thomas and to university with Harold Wilson does not seem to have affected his career. Rejoined the civil service in 1939 and, after a series of postings in the Admiralty, the Royal Navy and the Treasury, became Deputy Secretary of the U.K. University Grants Committee in 1963. In 1970 he was appointed Director of the Inter-University Council for Higher Education Overseas and served until his retirement in March 1980. In the course of its establishment in 1965, the University Grants Committee of Hong Kong sought, and received, advice from Mr. Griffiths. He was appointed a member in 1967 and served until his retirement in December 1980.

Mr. Griffiths has thus served higher education in Hong Kong in dual roles for over ten years. Taken successively they would have been difficult, taken simultaneously they must have been almost impossible to handle. To some of us he has taken on a personality not dissimilar to that of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. On the one hand, as Director of the IUC he has arranged for visits of numerous experts who have made recommendations on how best to improve our teaching and research programmes. The list of IUC visitors is a long one. Since 1969 a total of 73 visitors have reported on all aspects of the University's activities - from academic governance to the teaching of human sexuality and speech therapy. On the other hand, as member of the UPGC he has often found it necessary to deny us the funds that are inevitably required for implementation of many of the recommendations. That he has been fair to the University and has gained the respect of us all is clear from the fact that we are proposing to honour him today.

Mr. Chancellor, at a social event following a recent visitation of the UPGC, I was asked by an overseas member what the academic staff of the University thought of the Committee and its work. I must admit that I had never thought of the UPGC as serving any useful function and so, at a loss for a suitable diplomatic reply, I mumbled something about 'acting as a buffer' between Government and the University'. The terms of reference of the UPGC require it to keep under review certain activities of the University in the light of the community's needs. The difficulty has always been: Who is to determine the community's needs, the Government, the UPGC or the University? Once every three years, every four years before 1980, the whole University is mobilized to prepare Development Memoranda for the perusal of the Committee; after which we are closely interrogated. The more cynical amongst us claim that we have been wasting our time since the comments on our proposals, as delivered by the Chairman of the Committee, in the tone and style of an edict from Olympus (in keeping with the august status of the Committee) and with the clarity of a Delphian oracle (in keeping with the desire to maintain the autonomy of the University) always seem to bear no relationship to the needs of the community as seen through the eyes of the academic staff. This, I must emphasize, is the view of the cynical few. Most of us realize that for the University to prosper it should steer a steady course between the needs of the community as defined by the Government in term of student numbers and our own tendency to overindulge in the name of quality education for those students. This is where the UPGC comes into its own and perhaps my reference buffering role was not inappropriate. The need for a university to maintain its autonomy has been elegantly put by Vice-Chancellor Huang in his address to the Degree Conaregations held on November 13, 1979. In his address he also referred to the important role the UPGC had to play in maintaining this autonomy. Those who would still question the importance of the UPGC to the University and higher education in Hong Kong are urged to read Chapter 8, of Dr. Bernard Mellor's 'The University of Hong Kong: An Informal History' which has been recently published in connection with our birthday celebrations. In his role as Director of the IUC, Mr. Griffiths is well aware of the need to maintain the quality and autonomy of universities. In defending the quality of the services offered by the IUC and forcefully championing its autonomy he has in fact been putting the case for universities all over the world.

The Inter-University Council for Higher Education Overseas was established in 1946 by the universities of the United Kingdom, at the request of the British Government, to assist the advancement of higher education in developing countries. In 1970, the year Mr. Griffiths was appointed Director, the IUC became a corporate, independent body and entered into a formal agreement with the Ministry of Overseas Development. This agreement provided that all British official aid to the universities with which it was associated should as far as possible be coordinated by the Council. By 1978 the IUC could report that at any one time some 800 British staff were serving in associated universities overseas as staff members under contract, while every year some 300 short-term visitors from British universities and polytechnics were invited to undertake a wide variety of overseas assignments.

Because of its status as a Quango - for those unfamiliar with the word, Quango is not the name of a Latin American dance (though it may well become one), it means Quasi-Autonomous Government Organization the UJC can work directly with the British and overseas institutions so that the former can help the latter. It is able to respond, and adjust, rapidly in accordance with the needs of the recipient institutions. We sincerely hope that this feature of its activities will be retained when the IUC reappears as the IUPC in April to guide the work of a new unit within the British Council.

Mr. Chancellor, Mr. Griffiths was honoured by Her Majesty with the C.M.G. in 1978. In the following year he received honorary degrees from the University of Malaya and the University of Ulster and was given the Symons Award by the Association of Commonwealth Universities for his outstanding services to higher education. For his services to higher education in the Commonwealth and in Hong Kong, the University would likewise like to honour him and I call upon Your Excellency to confer upon Richard Cerdin Griffiths the degree of Doctor of Laws, honoris causa.