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The President Goes to Europe
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The President Goes to Europe
(From left) Dr Eden Y Woon, Mr Michele Petochi from the World Economic Forum and President Tony F Chan

This may be the digital age, but there is no substitute for the personal touch that comes with face-to-face meetings for building ties that endure.

HKUST has been a magnet attracting local and overseas scholars and students because of our rapid rise in rankings and international recognitions. But reaching out and building bridges is part of being an international university. To this end, the President, Prof Tony F Chan, together with our Vice-President for Institutional Advancement, Dr Eden Y Woon, took time out of their jam-packed schedules for a swing through Europe to visit some of the venerable seats of learning and research.

From 23 October to 1 November 2011, they had no time to play tourist. They called on 10 universities and two institutions. Included in their itineraries are the following tertiary institutions: In England, Oxford, Imperial College London, University College London; in France, École normale supérieure (ENS), Université Paris et Marie Curie (UPMC) and École Polytechnique; in the Netherlands, Leiden University and Delft University of Technology (TU Delft); in Switzerland, École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL) and Eidgenössische Technische Hochschule Zürich (ETH Zürich).

You cannot visit old Europe without rubbing against its history. Oxford, for one, is 900 years old. Leiden University, twinned with Oxford, has an enchanting tale all its own. In the 16th century, as a reward for heroically repelling a Spanish invasion, the king gave the town the choice of a 10-year tax moratorium or the gift of a university. Wisely, the people of Leiden chose the latter. In modern times, Leiden was better known as the 'Coldest Place on Earth' for its laboratory that developed cryogenics.

HKUST, at 20, is academically speaking   the new kid on the block. But you wouldn't know it from the warm reception extended to them by their European counterparts. The heads of seven out of the 10 universities all found time to sit down and talked ties with the HKUST delegation.

As leaders of a research university, President Chan and Dr Woon also visited Europe's world-leading research institute CERN which, equipped with powerful data-processing facilities and employing nearly 8,000 scientists, is known to the  world for the planet’s largest particle physics laboratory. They also called at the World Economic Forum, the Swiss non-profit foundation famous for its annual meeting of intellectual, business and political leaders at Davos.

This visit serves another purpose. The President and Dr Woon met with postgraduate students from five of the universities who are keen on studying or working at HKUST.
In between these meetings, they found time to introduce HKUST to local media representatives. In all, nine such meetings took place, almost one a day for the 10-day visit, from the venerable BBC, Times Higher Education in the UK to Le Temps in Switzerland.

Our Alumni Association, like a young octopus growing tentacles stretching to different places, now has members in responsible positions scattered throughout Europe. President Chan and Dr Woon held warm get-togethers with our alumni in all four countries visited. As the old Chinese saying goes, "There is no greater joy than meeting old friends in foreign places."

This visit lasted just 10 days, but the ties that it grows will last immeasurably far longer.