Mr Pro-chancellor, Chairman of Council, President & Vice-Chancellor, distinguished guests, colleagues, students, ladies and gentlemen; I must first of all thank the University of Hong Kong from the bottom of my heart for the honour you have bestowed on me in conferring the Doctor of Social Sciences honoris causa this afternoon.
Although I may be the only person to receive an award at today's ceremony, I find myself in most distinguished company. Previous recipients of honorary degrees in this august hall have included world leaders, Nobel Prize winners, spiritual leaders, virtuoso musicians, sporting giants and those who have made great contributions to Hong Kong's economic, social, political and intellectual development. In comparison with their achievements on the world stage, my contribution is indeed modest.
Yet I have great pleasure in accepting the award as it gives me the opportunity to reflect from the vantage point of my ninety-five years, on the changes I have observed in Hong Kong during the past six decades when it has been my home, at the intersection between those areas where I have been most actively involved: the law, politics and higher education; areas that have again been under the spotlight in Hong Kong since October last year.
When Dr Chung and I set up Shue Yan College in 1971, the landscape of Higher Education in Hong Kong was very different. The only universities that existed were Hong Kong University and the Chinese University of Hong Kong and provision for tertiary education was made for less than 2% of the relevant age group. We were very concerned about this lack of opportunity, particularly for students from modest backgrounds whose parents were unable to afford for them to undertake university education abroad.
The name we chose, Shue Yan, means the cultivation of virtue, and it was our aim, through the development of four year post-secondary programmes of study to provide opportunities for young people not only to acquire knowledge and develop employment-ready skills that would enable them to compete with graduates of the two universities for jobs, but to build character and learn to live harmoniously with one another in line with Confucian philosophy. In the Mainland at that time, traditional Chinese values were under attack in the Cultural Revolution. Our university mission statement today still embodies this aim to preserve and disseminate traditional Chinese values and culture.
In the early years after founding the college our path was at times steep, thorny and solitary. Nevertheless with the dedication of staff, students and supporters, who recognised the value of a Shue Yan education, we were able to stick to our principles, adopt an independent stance that was at odds with government policy and survive until policy changed again and paved the way for us to move forward to achieving our goal of University title.
Since 2001 we have witnessed a massive expansion in tertiary education provision in Hong Kong at both sub-degree and degree level that has been facilitated by the rapid development of accredited self-financing education providers and support from the HK Government. We have participated in the education reforms that mean that since 2012, Shue Yan's four-year degree programmes are no longer the exception, but the rule. Since 2014, our academic staff have access to competitive grants from earmarked research funds administered by the RGC. Yet, despite apparently 'fitting-in' for the first time in our 40+ years, as Hong Kong's first, and thus far, only private not-for-profit university, Shue Yan cannot rest on its laurels.
While the past twenty-five years have been good to Hong Kong's young people in terms of expanding educational and job opportunities, the ever-escalating cost of housing and political uncertainties have resulted in many of them postponing or indeed cancelling plans for parenthood. As a result the SAR is experiencing a demographic downturn, the effects of which will be an over-supply of places in self-financing institutions in the post-secondary sector by as early as the 2016/17 academic year. To survive and thrive in the decade to come, Shue Yan must yet again make hard choices and take decisions that are both principled and pragmatic about how we can best continue to serve the Hong Kong community by playing to our strengths in areas of need.
Throughout the developed world, governments are grappling with how to provide sufficient services to meet the needs of an ageing population. Here in Hong Kong we also need to address (and not for the first time since 1971) the issues arising from the need to assimilate new young migrants and to create a vibrant, harmonious, equitable, well-informed and well-governed society that respects the rule of law as embodied in the Basic Law. We must find ethical ways to assure the continued financial well-being of the SAR that do not further increase the wealth gap between rich and poor and impact adversely on the environment.
The wisdom and integrity of our political leaders; the vigilance of lawyers and the judiciary to safeguard those aspects of our legal system that ensure the rights and freedoms we take for granted; and the research and enquiry undertaken by academic colleagues and students in our universities across many disciplines; these will all be required to envision, develop and maintain Hong Kong as a free and fair society. In today's technology-driven, interconnected world, effective solutions are likely to be multi-faceted and interdisciplinary in nature.
I have been fortunate to remain in sufficiently good health to continue to work into my mid-90s. I believe that remaining active, both intellectually and physically, is one of the keys to longevity. Confucius himself made the point clearly in the Analects, Book VII. When describing himself, he said "This is the character of the man so intent upon enlightening the eager that he forgets his hunger, and so happy in doing so, that he forgets the bitterness of his lot and does not realise that old age is at hand." (「其為人也，發憤忘食，樂以忘憂，不知老之將至云爾」《論語‧述而》)
However, as Polonius, another old man well-known for taking his time to get to the point, remarked in Shakespeare's Hamlet: "Brevity is the soul of wit". Let me conclude here therefore, Mr Pro-chancellor, by thanking you again for bestowing this distinction on me today. I am most truly honoured.
Delivered by Professor Hu Yao Su, Academic Vice-President of the Hong Kong Shue Yan University on behalf of the honorary graduate, Dr the Honourable Henry Hu Hung Lick.