'KE is the Engine Translating Research into Impact'

'KE is the Engine Translating Research into Impact'

Professor Andy Hor is the new Vice-President and Pro-Vice-Chancellor responsible for both research and knowledge exchange (KE) at the University. It is a big portfolio but to him it is a natural combination because without KE, research will have limited impact outside academic circles.

"Knowledge exchange is essential for any modern university," he said. "The situation is quite simple: we may do very good research, which is our primary mission, apart from teaching and learning. But the impact of that may not be clear to people in the community. KE is the engine that translates all this into impact, into something that people can feel and touch."

Professor Hor speaks from deep experience. He is a respected researcher himself, having spent 31 years as a Chemistry academic at the National University of Singapore. For the past five years, he was seconded to the Institute of Materials Research & Engineering (IMRE) at the Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*STAR) where, as Executive Director, he steered efforts to produce materials-based technology and innovations that could help Singapore develop its high value-added industry. In Singapore, novel research is the basis for innovative industries, which in turn create national wealth and high-value jobs for the younger generation. These create an enterprising system that supports more R&D activities.

Making the leap from research to KE is therefore not something he sees as an add-on or afterthought, and he intends to cultivate such culture at HKU. KE in the broad sense covers all kinds of public engagement activities, knowledge access, technology transfer and commercialization. "I want to see all faculties and departments doing more of all these activities, but with a focus on translation of research into impact because HKU has an excellent research base. KE is about turning research output into outcome, which is about how the community and others benefit from our work," he said.

He wants faculties and departments to take ownership of the impact process, formulate plans on how they can create impact, and suggest how their impact should be evaluated. "I accept that not all research areas need to excel in delivering impact beyond academia. But I firmly believe that even blue-sky research can have non-academic impact – very often it is about how to articulate that and collect evidence. I want to ask all Faculty Deans how they want to be perceived and assessed by the community and how they make their Faculties more competitive in the current state of open innovation. We have gone past the stage where research impact is measured by publications and citations in academic journals. Whatever we come up with in our research labs or projects, we shall find a way to translate to benefit people's life and living. Such translation does not happen overnight, but we must have a sustained effort in doing such."

"And I can't emphasize enough the importance of inter-disciplinary/cross-faculty research and KE, which I want to strengthen at HKU. There are so many challenges facing the world today, for example, urbanization and aging. The inherent problems, such as environment, energy, health systems, etc., are huge, complex, interwoven and multifaceted. Our researchers in different disciplines should work together and with professionals in the community to find solutions, big or small, for society," Professor Hor advised.

KE also feeds back to research because impact may very well become a requirement for future research assessment. The UK has already taken that step and many other communities are taking the same direction. "For us to be a global university, we have to understand and respond to rising expectations. We are expected to be a hub for world-class research, not only in its quality and excellence, but very much also on its impact and community value."

"The world is changing. Not only that we should be ready for it, we should lead the change on selected fronts. Impact is not something that can be realised overnight – especially if it is determined at the fundamental level of a project. Collection of evidence to corroborate impact over a period of time is a big but meaningful challenge to a researcher," he explained.

An entrepreneurial culture on campus is also important to translate and transfer innovations and new ideas to the marketplace. Professor Hor sees students as the starting point for promoting entrepreneurship at HKU, much as it has been at places like Stanford, Columbia, MIT and Cambridge. "Our students should become inventors, innovators and creators for society. That spirit is fuelled when they are undergraduates," he said.

"There is a lot more to be done at HKU on innovation, entrepreneurship and translating research into impact, but I am confident that our students and faculty members can contribute in whatever ways to make this one of the most enterprising academic environment in the world."