Mr Pro-Chancellor, Vice-Chancellor, fellow honorary graduate Lord Darzi, members of the University. It is an honour to receive this degree from Hong Kong University today. But it is also a great disappointment for me that I cannot actually be with you on this occasion. I have been many times to Hong Kong and the rest of China, and have very much enjoyed those visits, and I hope that I will soon be able to come again when this pandemic is over.
For many years I have worked in the university and the university linked public research sector, and it is at times like this that I like to think about what universities are for. Universities are places for teaching, for research, for scholarship. They have to teach students how to think, to value the freedom of thought, to be tolerant of the opinions of others, to respect creativity and careful objective analysis. Their intellects need to be inflamed, their curiosities inspired. Intellectual curiosity is the life blood of civilisation and universities need to nurture it. Teaching also thrives best in places of research and scholarship.
I am a research scientist and have tried throughout my life, to follow the attributes of science, attributes which are core to all scholarly endeavours. These are to have respect for accurate and reproducible data and observation; to recognise the absolute need for honesty and consistency in your work; to encourage scepticism and doubt, especially about your own ideas. Science thrives where there is permeability of ideas and people, and flourishes in environments that pool intelligence, minimise barriers, open to free exchange and collaboration, and are tolerant of the diversity of ideas.
Universities therefore have a special role to breakdown barriers between peoples and nations. Universities are places which need to have the passion to challenge, to disagree, to quest for truth however uncomfortable it may be.
Science has great power to understand the world, but it also needs to change the world, to drive benefits for humanity. Benefits such as improving health, driving economies, creating wealth for all, to solve the great global challenges such as climate change. All of this is what universities are for, and Hong Kong University is one of the great international universities of the world.
So once again thank you for this degree. It is an honour for me to become part of your community, and I hope very much to see you all as soon as possible.