Revitalizing the economy through research

Regina Lau

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How can the advancement of knowledge through research play a role in boosting Hong Kong's current sluggish economy? A forum on this topic kicked off the Postgraduate Research Expo 2002, organized by the CityU Postgraduate Association to showcase our students" research talents and achievements.

Representatives from the government, private sector and academia were invited to speak at the forum, held on 14 December 2002 in the Wei Hing Theatre. "Research is important in building an economic foundation, but don't expect it to happen overnight," said Dr Paul Cheung, Policy Adviser for the government's Innovation and Technology Commission, veteran scholar and a former educator. He believes the essence of research is the pursuit of knowledge for its own sake. In the new knowledge-based economy, where the former, easy ways of making money no longer work, investment in R&D presents new opportunities and the means to power long-term economic growth, he said. "The future depends on discovery-based activity. Copy-based activity is useless. Will we copy better? We won't."

Speaking from the viewpoint of an academic-turned-businessman, Dr Cliff Chan, founder and CE" of the listed TeleEye Group and an Adjunct Professor in CityU's Department of Computer Engineering and Information Technology, presented the audience with a panoramic view of the global economic situation: recession, with the exception of South Korea, which has a much longer, more established history of high technology research than Hong Kong. He identified world recession and the dollar peg as the main culprits for Hong Kong's economic downturn. Though blessed with the China factor, Hong Kong , however, is losing its comparative advantage. The way to survive is to produce high value-added products and services not easily Ocopied" by competitors, through continuous technological innovation and the building of brands, he said.

Chair Professor Ron Hui of CityU's Department of Electronic Engineering, who is also the founder of e.Energy Technology Ltd, a CityU Enterprises Ltd associate company, shared his experience in transforming his research into a viable business. "When you do research, do not think of the economy." It is difficult to differentiate between fundamental and applied research, and very often only time will tell, Professor Hui said. A realistic business plan, a thorough market analysis and communication with the business community are the crucial steps before any researcher "jumps into the ocean", he advised. "Businessmen are not interested in sharing your dreams; they are interested in sharing profits."

Chair Professor Stephen Cheung, from CityU's Department of Economics and Finance, pointed out that the future of Hong Kong depends on its ability to attract investment and people, so it is important to work out a "happy marriage" between universities and the private sector. The government could help achieve this through policy options, such as tax incentives and protection of intellectual property rights.

Mr S W Cheung, Vice-President (Business Development and Technology Support) of the Hong Kong Science and Technology Parks Corporation, explained the role of SciencePark's incubation programme in helping transfer high-tech research works into commercial projects. Speaking on behalf of CityU's research students, Ms Janet Tang, from the Department of Biology and Chemistry, said that postgraduates sometimes find it difficult to contribute their expertise to society, due to the rather limited scope of job opportunities available in the private sector.

Responding to Ms Tang's comment, Mr Cheung gave the audience some heartening newsNSciencePark has a new batch of Silicon Valley-type setups and will have to recruit some 225 new hands from local universities over the next few months. Mr Cheung also sounded optimistic about the prospect of more start-ups, and the demand for more new recruits in the near future. "In the past, the technology industry in Hong Kong was more sales and marketing driven," he said. "Now, things are changing.O

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