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From HKUST to LEGCO Face to Face with Legislative Councilor Starry Lee
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Face to Face with Legislative Councilor Starry Lee

In less than two decades, HKUST has churned out tens of thousands of graduates and many of them are making outstanding contributions to their professions or creating an impact in society.

UST LINK will feature an alumni series profiling one HKUST alumnus at a time. The following interview with Starry Lee, the first legislative councilor from HKUST, marks the launch of the series.

Q: How did HKUST education prepare you for your political career?

A: The data analysis training that accounting studies entails have helped me develop logical thinking skills, invaluable to my life as a Councilor. While still carrying on the volunteering work started in my teen years, I actively participated in a slew of extra- curricular activities at HKUST. I was an Executive Committee Member of the Management Society of Business School and a member of the University’s Debating Team. All these involvements did help boost my management and critical thinking skills.

Yet what I treasure most is the learning- to-learn mindset and research and project management know-how — which lie very much at the core of HKUST's academic curriculum. Knowledge keeps evolving. It is this capacity for self- learning and self-improvement that gives me the edge in an increasingly complex and competitive world.

Q: HKUST is a young university. As its graduate, will you consider this an advantage or otherwise?

A: Compared to students of other local universities, HKUST graduates are less bound by established norms and traditions. Encouraged by a district councilor, I took part in District Council’s direct election. I did not have any predecessors' experience to count on. What really matters is the courage to face challenges and seizing an opportunity as it pops up.

Like many other HKUST graduates, the University’s academic rigor has won worldwide acclaim. In the years to come, the University is to groom more and more students of fabulous quality. The transient "shortcoming" that HKUST has yet to carve out and shape its own heritage will become traceless in no time.

Q: How do you view concerns about our students' political lethargy? What’s your impression of our students in general?

A: In various occasions I have met many HKUST students. They impressed me as energetic youngsters, eager to take part in extra-curricular activities. Of course they are also tremendously hardworking — in order to meet the exceptionally high parameters HKUST sets for its student. HKUST also impresses me as a great place for learning.

Limited media coverage has misled people to believe that HKUST students are not very much into politics. But there are reasons for this. HKUST does not offer such politics-laden programs as Public Administration, Politics and Communications, and our students tend to voice their social and political concerns in a less radical manner, which invariably generate less attention and coverage from the media. As far as I know, HKUST is never in lack of politically savvy students who are always ready to come to the fore and make their views and political stance known.

Q: Based on your experience, what advice would you give current HKUST students aspiring a career in politics?

A: Compared to the situation a decade ago, today there are many more channels for political participation. Our students can join the Government as a civil servant. They can also join a political party or work in a Non-government Organization (NGO).

Joining the Civil Service — the farce that civil servants constitute the largest political party hinges on the fact that civil servants are policy makers. As a civil servant you might be able to influence decisions in the public domain. So students should take this as a viable option.

Joining a political party — it has become more common nowadays for young people to join a local political party. Taking part in direct election is a great training for fresh graduates. It is a humbling yet empowering experience, putting their character and temperament to real test. Joining a NGO — I recommend our students to talk to their seniors who are currently working at NGOs.

Q: What skill set should our students seek to equip themselves?

A: Subject knowledge keeps evolving, only soft skills — the ability to get your messages across and the language capabilities in English, Putonghua and Cantonese — can sustain the test of time. As today’s executives in the world of work get a lot more chances to present and express themselves, it's important to acquire the ability to think critically, logically and express oneself in a succinct and spontaneous manner.

Q: As a LegCo member and a mother, what are your concerns on the 3-3-4 reform?
A: I think the reform direction of 3-3-4 is correct. It will hopefully help us steer clear of rote learning, a gene embedded into our education system. Under the new senior secondary curriculum, Liberal Studies as a subject will encourage the development of soft skills. It provides lots of flexibility for free exposition and analysis while freeing students from the bondage of sticking rigidly to prescribed answers. As a LegCo member, I will keep an eye on the situation and help realize the intended goals of this education initiative.

The Hon Starry Lee Wai-king

Graduated from HKUST in 1996, Starry was an Accounting major. She started her first job as an auditor and became Hong Kong’s youngest female District Councilor at the age of 25. In 2008, she won the Legislative Council Election for the Kowloon West Constituency. She is currently a full-time LegCo member working with a focus on economic, education and developmental matters.