Knowledge Exchange is at Our Core

'Knowledge Exchange is at Our Core'

The new President and Vice-Chancellor of HKU, Professor Peter Mathieson, has spoken firmly about the central role of knowledge exchange (KE) at the University and its essential contribution in maximizing and inspiring our research and teaching achievements.

"We have a moral responsibility to engage the public in what we are doing and to use our knowledge to inform public debate," he said.

"I think deep down every researcher wants to change the world in some way and knowledge exchange is the way for them to do this, be it about improvement in healthcare or industrial practices, innovative products, influence on government policies, empowerment of NGOs, schools or disadvantaged groups, or cultural and art appreciation, etc. There is no point knowing about something that could change the world if we don't tell people about it and make use of such knowledge."

Public engagement and demonstration of impact can be easier for some disciplines – often thought to be those science-based ones, but Professor Mathieson does not see that as a hindrance to KE.

"For some disciplines, the audience may be smaller, more focused, more targeted, but there can still be tremendous impact. It may be difficult, and the prioritisation of KE will vary according to individual enthusiasm. But it is hazardous to portray KE as an additional activity. Being a natural consequence of research, it should be part and parcel of our core missions. I am very pleased to see that all ten Faculties have embedded KE in their mainstream activities and support structure," he said.

On the question of government funding availability, Professor Mathieson was adamant that this should not influence HKU's own commitment to KE.

"I don't think HKU should only respond to an agenda set by funding bodies," he explained, adding: "I believe the University itself has a responsibility to promote KE through its own policies. It's certainly a step in the right direction that academic colleagues could now include their KE activities in their performance review and development so as to receive recognition for their contributions. Colleagues should in future be encouraged to set objectives for KE and even milestones if it's long-term work such as drug development – if I may use an example from my own field. It would then also become easier for senior academics to help junior researchers along the way."

While the initial KE funding from the University Grants Committee has been helpful, he encouraged researchers to look beyond government for external funding, including to overseas and to industry. Collaborative projects with joint funding support from the government and industry should be encouraged. 

Looking ahead, Professor Mathieson said, "We should recognize that technology transfer is under-developed in Hong Kong and there is a lot more HKU should do. Commercialization of our technologies should be actively pursued. The University should also catch up on developing an entrepreneurial culture on campus.

"Ironically, the better employment prospects in Hong Kong and the region for graduates compared to the situation in the US and Europe may not be conducive to entrepreneurship. But it is absolutely important. Students often have innovative ideas – they should be encouraged to be more entrepreneurial, be given guidance on the basics to get started, and be inspired to create success out of failure as it is common for start-ups to fail. Fear of failure is understandable but if it becomes stifling it can inhibit innovation."

"We should also be doing more public and school engagement. I believe all higher education institutions should develop KE further. HKU should lead by example."