Introduction to the new Council Chairman

Just weeks after his appointment by the Chief Executive on 29 April 2022, CUHK in Focus spoke to new Council Chairman Professor John Chai Yat-Chiu about his new role and his plans over his first few months in office.

Professor Chai comes to the role with a strong track record in corporate governance, environment and sustainability, innovation and technology, and higher education administration.

Professor Chai is Senior Advisor, Fook Tin Group Holdings Limited. Prior to joining Fook Tin, Professor Chai was a full-time administrator and faculty member at Northwestern University, where he remains an Emeritus Professor. Professor Chai is also an Honorary Clinical Professor at the Faculty of Dentistry at The University of Hong Kong.

“Education is my first career and has always been dear to me. I think University Councils have three important roles. The first is strategic planning and development, the second is governance, and the third is the selection and appointment of senior management. I strongly believe that these roles are key for every University Council”.

Before joining CUHK’s Council last November, Professor Chai served as Vice-Chairman of the University Council at The Hong Kong University of Science and Technology and had served on the University Council of The Hong Kong Polytechnic University earlier.

Professor Chai has a diverse career with experience overlapping academia, research, industry and entrepreneurship, which uniquely allows him to offer expertise and insights on the innovation agenda. He thinks the time is right for Hong Kong, saying “this is an exciting moment! The Guangdong – Hong Kong – Macau Greater Bay Area initiative, and the government’s plans to transform Hong Kong into an international innovation and technology hub all spell wonderful things for our universities, and CUHK is well positioned to take advantage of these opportunities”.

“The Greater Bay Area initiative is exhilarating for all of Hong Kong, but CUHK has distinct advantages. It was the first university to establish a presence in the Greater Bay Area through the Shenzhen Institute of Advanced Technology with the Chinese Academy of Sciences in 2006, the Shenzhen Research Institute in 2007, and the establishment of CUHK (Shenzhen) in 2014. We must continue our commitment to strengthen our collaborations so that one plus one is truly greater than two.”

Professor Chai said “the support for CUHK’s new Strategic Plan is inspiring – the entire University’s championship of this ambitious vision is something that really resonates with everyone in the CUHK community”. But Professor Chai emphasised that “all seven areas pursued are equally important and together they make up a coherent success matrix.” He said that “the Strategic Plan’s success depends on the entire University’s determination to share the vision together, but then to achieve it, will require careful planning, setting concrete objectives, reviewing interim results and continuously improving outcomes.”

He said that he was impressed by the University’s approach to whole-person development and general education, believing it to represent a unique educational model in Hong Kong, saying “no other university can own this space in quite the way CUHK can – our collegiate system provides the foundations for students to supplement their core classroom learning with the moral cultivation of what it means to be a good citizen. I think CUHK’s “social responsibility and sustainability” agenda under our Strategic Plan exemplifies how CUHK embraces the agenda while nurturing for our next generation of graduates.” Professor Chai furthered that, “the University should ensure that this education model continues to provide Hong Kong with a pipeline of responsible citizens who can make contribution to society in their own rights.

Professor Chai believes that it had been a challenging time for universities to deal with the aftermath of the social unrest and the COVID-19 pandemic, and says that the University’s upcoming 60th anniversary year would offer a window of opportunity for the University to discuss with a broad cross section of society, how the Higher Education Sector can shape its role to enhance the next chapter of Hong Kong’s development.

“Universities have a responsibility to make sure that they maintain dialogue with stakeholders to ensure that they sustain that social license for what they do. At the end of the day, universities such as ours are public institutions, and it is vital that we are as connected as possible so that we understand stakeholders’ expectations.” While emphasising the importance of engaging with staff, students and alumni, Professor Chai said the University should continue to look externally so that “our impact resonates across an even broader cross section of society including lawmakers, government and business leaders, and I look forward to hearing their ideas on how we can play an even more important role in forging a shared future for our city”.

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