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Sir Jack CATER




Sir Jack CATER

Doctor of Social Sciences
honoris causa

Your Excellency and Chancellor, Vice Chancellor, Ladies and Gentlemen:

I am twice honoured today. First by the conferment upon me of one of the highest degrees of this University. Second by the further honour bestowed by the invitation to address this distinguished congregation on behalf of the honourary graduates.

Your Excellency and Chancellor, before proceeding to my address, may I, on behalf of my fellow and worthy graduates, express to you, to the Vice-Chancellor and to the Senate, our deep gratitude for the honours we have received. This, Sir, is your last congregation as Chancellor of this University and we therefore regard today's ceremony as a single occasion. We are conscious of the very considerable import that your presence in the seat of highest power in Hong Kong has meant to our community. In particular, your concern for the well-being and welfare of the institutions of higher learning is known throughout the land. We thank you and we wish you well.

I also salute my friend and distinguished colleague, Rayson Huang, the outstanding Vice-Chancellor of this fine University who has been at the helm throughout this past decade, when such enormous development and improvement has been taking place. Long may he thrive!

Today I propose to spend a little time discussing the theme "The University in Society" - in particular the University of Hong Kong at this time in our community; the Town and the Gown, as it were. You may ask what qualifications I have for speaking on this important and complex subject: in spite of my fine robes I am not an academic. I have not had the privilege of a University education. But I am your archetypal layman: a man of the town, if not your man about town! I shall speak of the University not only in broad terms, but of its component parts of Administration, Teaching, Research and the Student Body and what I perceive to be their roles, their relationships with and within our community. For now it will only be possible to touch briefly on a number of points, not even necessarily mentioning all of the more important ones. In that my remarks are meant for anybody in particular, I address myself generally to those who are involved in higher education; and to those (for they need not be the same) who believe with me that higher education is about to have an even more vital role to play than heretofore in the continuing, improving prosperity and welfare of this exciting city and its hard-working, courageous, admirable people; but in particular today, I address the younger members of this congregation, especially the student body of Hong Kong University.

What is the use of higher education? Is this University meeting present needs? Is it planning sensibly and properly for the inevitable and substantial demands the community will make upon it in the future? A future which is going to be significantly different from conditions pertaining now and in the immediate past. Autonomous though it may be, does the University recognise the accountability it owes, and must have, to the community? Is it fully aware of the outsider's view of the University's activities and its products - both human and otherwise? Does it really care what others think, or does it mistakenly regard its essential autonomy, its essential independence, as a licence to do what it wishes without proper regard for the community which succours it, which pays for it? It has truly been said that the fate of universities is to tread a narrow path between two abysses: unless they are useful they lose the world, and unless they are more than useful, they lose their souls.

So, what do we expect from our University, from our higher education? Today I would like to consider just four objectives (not necessarily in order of precedence). And first, "Training". The oft-quoted Confucius apparently said - at least according to one interpretation - that it was not easy to find a man who had studied for three years without aiming at pay. And, highly though education for its own sake is regarded by Chinese people, it is very doubtful indeed whether this University would prove so popular were its teaching, and the qualifications it offers, not so valuable to the future careers of its graduates. I make the point that there is of course nothing in the least wrong about this, because I believe that today and in the future our progress as a community, which depends so much upon our competitive position, will increasingly rely upon skills which demand special training. It is exceedingly important in a community such as ours which has apparent and vast gaps between the very rich and very poor, that there should be ample opportunity for social mobility and for future economic security. Higher education provides perhaps the most vital key to this.

As a second suggested objective I list the "Training of the Mind". Given the advance of technology and science and the impact these are inevitably having and will have, there will be heavy demands not just for training, but for re-training, experiential learning - in other words, for continuing education - as our present generations face up to the changing world of the micro-chip, the micro-processor, to automation and the robot, a world in which it will perhaps be commonplace for workers to change occupation four, five or six times in their working lives and where re-training will be necessary at least once. The question will be whether they have the adaptability of the mind, sufficient discipline of thinking, successfully to make such transpositions as will be required of them if they are not to become redundant. And equally important will be the University's capability, its willingness, to provide the necessary new-style training which continuing education will require.

As a third objective I have the "Advancement of Learning". The importance of research in Hong Kong has sometimes been cast into doubt by those who prefer to see our universities as simple extensions of the sixth forms of our secondary schools: this, assuredly, is a narrow view: and the community, not merely the University, would suffer if ever research ceased to be regarded as the most necessary function of any university. I believe this wholeheartedly... notwithstanding the eminent gentlemen who expostulated: "For God's sake stop researching for a while and start thinking".

Fourthly, the "Development of a Sense of Values", a set of guiding principles. If these "beliefs-in-what-is-right" are to be of value they must be applicable not only to the student himself or herself, but equally to other people, to the community; they involve the transmission of common standards of citizenship and common culture.

In Hong Kong, East truly meets West and we can, if we will, have the best of both worlds.

One effective approach, I suggest, could be simply a commitment by example, if not by teaching, to the old Chinese virtues of honesty, integrity and of goodness; by the inculcation of open-mindedness and of tolerance which qualities, never let it be forgotten, make up the essence of civilisation.

Our University has a special role. Some of us will be able to recall that as its establishment, its special responsibility was said to bridge the East and the West.

Now what is this University's track record in the achievement of these objectives? Certainly in one aspect of the first objective, I think it to have been overwhelmingly successful - that is in the encouragement of social mobility. When I first came to Hong Kong in 1945, the University of Hong Kong was to all intents and purposes a university for the sons, and a few daughters, of the rich. It is now, blessedly and happily, a university for the community where by far the majority come from lower and lower-middle income families. A triumph for equal opportunity. And hopefully too, as time progresses, a triumph for social mobility. Surely one of the most important achievements of post-war Hong Kong!

I do have one small related criticism, Your Excellency and Chancellor, which should not go unmentioned. It seems to me that the girls have yet to achieve full equality with the boys in terms of numbers; they - the girls - have, (as I am sure they will be the first to admit) already achieved equality, and sometimes better, in terms of academic standards and intellectual ability: could it be that there is discrimination against the ladies? Is there fear of overwhelming feminine competition? Fear of that ingredient we in Hong Kong hold to be the essential secret of success? I certainly hope that the men will be spurred on by the presence of an increasing equality of numbers in the future.

But to return to Training in general. Does the University provide what the community requires? Here the degree of achievement is less obvious. Some employers say that they have no quarrel with the standard of academic excellence but feel the University pays too little attention to other skills, for example to administration, to management. Some (unkindly) suggest that the graduates have little knowledge of practicalities, that their education has not been broad enough, that they have to be taught "the facts of life" in their new jobs. These, of course, are the words of criticism likely to be leveled at any university and at any recent graduates anywhere. The important point is what truth is there in these expressions of concern? Is the curriculum too narrowly-based? Indeed, has it been too narrowly-based, too specialised, from the time our graduate was in the sixth form? Or even earlier?

Perhaps more worrying is the criticism from some employers, and some graduates, to the effect that university courses often have little relevance to what is required in that world of work waiting outside. Should that be so, (and I rather fancy that in some areas it may well be so), then why is it so? Here again the "blame" cannot be put entirely upon the shoulders of the University. At this point I should comment on that old, but seemingly never-ending argument, as to whether university courses should be shaped and designed specifically to meet the needs of the community. Some have even suggested a degree of compulsion, direct or indirect, towards specific courses; the alternative being individual student choice. To a bureaucrat, and possibly to education authorities too, manpower-planning may appear attractive in this context. But other than in the short, or at most medium-term, and in very special circumstances, such as within specific government fields, this could be dangerous. And while I am pleased that last year the Hong Kong government started a limited manpower survey for its own requirements, one must recognise the pitfalls and inadequacies of any attempt to produce a similar community-wide survey and then to try to apply the results of such a survey rigidly.

There can be no denying that at present there must be a great deal of mismatching, but there is no evidence to suggest that institutions of higher education in Hong Kong have failed the world of work any more than the world of work has failed higher education. The imponderables are of course daunting in this regard. Nowhere in the world have authorities found a complete answer...the difficulties of forecasting how the economy may shape; the problems inherent in forecasting technological advances, are legion. One only has to look back upon the developments and changes in our own small community over the past twenty-odd years to appreciate the enormous difficulties in forecasting what will happen, say, in the coming decade. When considering demands for particular types of qualifications, it has to be recognised that demand in this sense depends essentially upon prevailing rates of pay. Doctors and lawyers in the private sector, I am told, are not doing too badly at present. But will that still be the case in fifteen or twenty years' time? And if not who will take their places in the super-income bracket?

Efforts must be made to create a better informed climate of opinion about higher education and employment and to provide decision-makers at all levels with information and with guidance on the labour-market context in which they make choices. Students need to know not just the types of employment available and courses suitable to qualify for such employment, but they need to know too the salary they may expect and their prospects for the future. There needs to be greater responsiveness on the part of the University authorities, matched by a willingness to provide information on the part of the employers. Consultation and co-operation of this kind does take place now but there are gaps and wherever possible they should be busily filled: the Town and the Gown must get their act together.

What of the future? Is the administration, are the teaching authorities really conscious of the inevitable changes ahead? Are they good and ready to make radical changes? Is, for example, the Department of Extra-Mural Studies (which now does such splendid work) geared to meet the challenges of the future - of continuing education, the inevitable and considerable demand for renewal of education at a later age? Will it be able to cope with those in our society who have the capacity, the desire and the will to undertake further study? All over the world, one of the most important social requirements is to have an occupation, a job: in Hong Kong it is especially important. And yet, the time is not all that far distant when we, like a lot of the rest of the world, will have to begin to think in terms of job-sharing, and early retirement: of shorter working weeks. No doubt many in Hong Kong, like me, would view this prospect with a certain degree of alarm: but this is not just a possibility, it is a probability and to some it is the inevitable future, given the present pace of progress in technology. There are bound to be side effects, and there is bound to be resistance but it is more than likely to be one of the facts of life to be faced in the 1990s. Not least among the side effects, and a matter of concern, is the problem of how one should use one's (enforced) leisure. Already the leisure industry grows apace. Is it moving in the right direction? Is it not time that education authorities, including those in this University, gave thought as to how people may be encouraged and educated towards using their leisure time in positive ways. We cannot claim that we have been taken by surprise. Long ago George Bernard Shaw for one foresaw that a major problem of the future would be the Problem of Leisure.

As for the advancement of learning, the amount and type of research which should be carried out by this University is a subject for debate which I do not propose to tackle here. I would, however, enter a strong plea that more effort should be concentrated towards studies of direct benefit to this community. We need more co-operation, more understanding between the universities, the government and the professional and commercial world so as to ensure that such studies are carefully selected to provide the greatest benefit for the general community.

Earlier, Your Excellency and Chancellor, I indicated a wish to speak of the student body. I have for long had the greatest admiration and liking for the young people of Hong Kong and have made it a point, these past several years, to meet and talk with those engaged in higher educational studies. I enjoy their company and find their outlook stimulating and congenial. As an interviewer of prospective administrative officers I have occasionally had reason to wish that some candidates had a broader knowledge of our society, had taken a greater interest in our community, had concerned themselves, perhaps, with social service. (And I suppose, Sir, that is a comment which could be made about some of the staff of the University too.) But thankfully, many students effectively and generously do find time for such activities - and this in spite of the pressure under which they work towards the overriding goal of doing well in their examinations. And so, part of the objective of good citizenship would seem to be transmitted, if not taught (for it may well not be teachable) to the young people at this University in terms of a Sense of Community. Or had it perhaps been inculcated in them before their arrival here? Having said that, a matter of concern is that so very quickly upon entering the rat race which seems to be the lot of so many after leaving University, those dearly-loved, dearly-held ideals are forgotten, and concentration is directed upon getting on and making money. There is nothing wrong, of course, in that. In many ways this is what Hong Kong is all about, what has made it so successful. Getting on and making money is fair enough, and wrong only when it is the sole motivation in life, when it gets out of proportion and becomes unadulterated greed. University students are a very privileged section of the community, enjoying exceptional opportunities provided by the labour of the community. Such privilege brings with it great responsibility, not only a sense of obligation to work hard, but also an on-going concern to contribute to the development and welfare of our community. Because of their abilities, because of the privileges which have been granted to them, our University students are destined to be among the future leaders of our society. So I say once more to them: remember well, retain your idealism!

Someone once defined education as being able to differentiate between what you know and what you don't; knowing where to find out what you need to know; and knowing how to use the information once you've got it. It is that word HOW that is the important one. Knowing HOW means using your information in the light of your ideals, not in the dark or semi-darkness of muddled expediency. And to those who reach high positions, including especially those who join government service, I plead that they remember to live and work in humility; that they eschew vanity, self-aggrandisement and displays of wealth; that as our future managers they remember that our economy has largely been built through the efforts of our working people who need and deserve due recognition and a fair share of the results of their labours. There is a wise Chinese saying: "The sea is Lord over a thousand streams because it stays below them". In meaning that is not so different from the motto in my service under which we all purport to serve: "Whosoever will be Chief among you, let him be your servant".

By happy coincidence, today the fourth of March is the day we hold the first-ever elections to the District Boards in the New Territories (those in the urban areas of course are to be held later in the year). When the Green Paper first setting out our ideas on District Administration was being drafted, I had in mind the young people of Hong Kong, particularly those who are destined to be our future leaders. I asked of them that they fully discharge their obligations and responsibilities. Often in the past some have been critical of the Hong Kong government, its officials, and those who advise the government. A propos of this, I am tempted to put similar questions to those I have just posed in respect of this University. How would it be if we considered the following: Are you satisfied with the way things are going? Do you think the Hong Kong government is doing a good job? Are you satisfied with our leadership and of the track record not just of government servants but of those who advise the government? Are you playing your part for the community for Hong Kong? The District Administration Scheme was designed so that we could obtain the best advice possible at the District level. If this proves as successful as I expect it will, it is intended that members of the District Boards will in due course be considered for appointment to other Councils.

Your Excellency and Chancellor, since 1945 I have witnessed our Hong Kong in many moods, in many phases, in many ups and downs. And I have witnessed at close hand two real crises. On each occasion we the community won through because we had faith, because we had confidence in ourselves and in each other. In particular I have good reason to recall the courageous stand taken on one of those two occasions by the Students' Union of this University. The details are well known and I shall not rehearse them now. Suffice it to say that at a time when things indeed looked black, it was the students of this University who wonderfully came out in support of the Hong Kong government and the community. That support, and the strong terms in which it was couched, was the turning point of the crisis. It encouraged others to do likewise, but it must not be forgotten that it was the young men and young women of the University of Hong Kong who gave the lead. I have no doubt that their successors here today and, indeed, those waiting in the wings, are made of equally stern stuff. As a community we have nothing to fear now nor in the future provided we maintain our faith, our confidence in ourselves and in each other.

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