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Letter to Lingnanians

23 December 2015

Leonard K Cheng

Leonard K Cheng

Dear Lingnanians,

The first semester of this academic year has been an unusual one for Lingnan, with opportunities and achievements mixed with challenges and difficulties.   Many Lingnanians might be perplexed by a number of unexpected events related to the University over the past few months.  As the semester is drawing to a close, it is the right time for us to re-examine the situation we experienced, channel our thoughts properly and reaffirm our faith before we move forward to the new year.

Recent episodes experienced by the University

Among the difficult episodes we experienced recently, I believe two interrelated incidents have caught the attention of the Lingnan community as well as the general public and raised serious concerns about the incidents’ impact on the University’s reputation.  They were the plagiarism allegations against our former Associate Vice-President and Comptroller, and questions over the operations of Lifelong College, a private further study organization established by a member of the University Council. 

In response to these two unexpected incidents, the University has taken swift and appropriate actions to minimise damages to the University’s reputation and to avoid continued misunderstanding and misinformation among the general public.  The alleged plagiarism case led to the setup of an investigation panel, but it quickly drew to an end with the former staff’s admission of wrong doing, apology to Lingnanians, and immediate resignation.  Meanwhile, the University made it clear right from the beginning that the accused College was independent of and unrelated to our University.  As such, we have neither authority nor obligation to look into the charges against the College, and investigation by government authorities into the College’s operations is the proper way to address the concerns of Lingnanians and the general public.

Out of true affection for and dedication to Lingnan, some of you may have questions on the University’s commitment to academic integrity and excellence.  I want to state unequivocally that the University is seriously committed to academic integrity and standards and will take all necessary steps to ensure them.  I should also point out that the plagiarism case involved a non-academic staff whose appointment and promotion preceded the degree in question.

For Lingnanians who remain puzzled and worried, let me refer to the old Chinese saying “疾風知勁草,” i.e., “the sturdiness of grass is well demonstrated under strong winds”.  To ascertain the vigour of a university’s academic standing, one needs to look no further than its actual academic performance and activities.  I am therefore proud to refer you to my last Letter in September where I shared the outstanding performance of our academic staff in the 2015/16 RGC funding exercise.  In addition, the past few months have witnessed encouraging development in the University’s effort to extend its international exchange and research links.

Lingnan’s Globalisation Effort

On the regional front, Vice-President Prof Joshua Mok Ka-ho and I went to Singapore to attend an inaugural symposium and ceremony of the Yale-NUS College’s new campus on 11-12 October, and we took the opportunity to further strengthen our links with existing partners and explore opportunities of cooperation with new ones.  Representatives from Waseda University in Japan, National Chengchi University in Taiwan, Chulalongkorn University in Thailand, Utrecht University in the Netherlands, Uppsala Universitet in Sweden, and other universities in Italy, Czech Republic and USA were keen to collaborate with us in enhancing student learning, postgraduate programmes and research cooperation.  Prof Mok also established research cooperation with Head Foundation, an independent think tank based in Singapore to engage in comparative education and policy studies in Asia.   Also pushing in the same direction, Prof Shalendra Sharma, Associate Vice-President (Academic Quality Assurance and Internationalisation) visited a number of Asian universities in October and November and succeeded in establishing student exchange agreements with the following Forbes Top 10 Asian liberal arts colleges:   Yonsei University (with its liberal arts Underwood International College), Seoul National University, Waseda University and National Taiwan University.  In addition, he also deepened our relationship with some of our current partners including Hanyang University and Yeungnam University.

In the global arena, I attended the inaugural QS WORLDWIDE conference and exhibition held from 28 to 30 September in Nizhny Novgorod, Russia, and joined the Hong Kong Universities Panel Presentation on the topic “Internationalisation – The Hong Kong Experience” sharing with the audience Lingnan’s approach to internationalisation and its achievements.  The Vice-President, taking an opportunity of attending the OECD Conference on Higher Education Futures held from 14 to 15 October in Singapore as a speaker, co-launched the ESRC/HEFCE Centre for Global Higher Education, a partnership of three UK and eight Asian institutions including Lingnan. 

As for global academic programmes, on 2 December we signed an agreement with Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona to offer a joint Double-Master Degree Programme in Research in Economic Analysis and International Banking and Finance in 2016/17.  This is the first double-master degree programme between any Spanish university and any university in Hong Kong.  In addition, two Lingnan students were selected to participate in the Global Liberal Arts Alliance’s pilot Global Scholar Programme.  Starting from this and the next semester, respectively, our Global Scholars   will blend academic knowledge, skills, attitudes and experiences related to their topic of study, and broaden their global liberal arts perspectives.

Mainland Engagement

Turning to the Mainland, our Centre for Public Policy Studies and China Institute of Regulation Research of Zhejiang University of Finance and Economics signed a strategic collaboration agreement on our campus on 3 December.  This agreement aims to promote close cooperation on competition policy and government regulations research.  On 5 December, I was in Beijing to attend an international conference on “The Role of the Chinese Economy in the World Economy”, of which Lingnan was one of the supporting organisations and I delivered a speech on Mainland China’s “Belt Road initiative”.  I also visited Tsinghua University’s School of Economics and Management and Peking University’s liberal arts Yuan Pei College to explore collaboration opportunities on 7 December.  A senior academic of Yuan Pei College who is leading the college’s effort to strengthen its English language programme and internationalisation effort visited our campus on 19 December.  Closer to home, our Vice-President led a delegation to Sun Yat-sen University on 14 December to discuss specific collaboration initiatives further to a general framework agreement concluded early this year.

Maintaining Faith

I hope the above will give you a sense of the vigour and excitement of our pursuit of academic excellence in teaching and learning, research, and outreach.  In reaching our goals, Lingnan University has all along and will continue to abide by the highest professional conduct and integrity.  I call on all of you, as members of our treasured Lingnan community, to maintain faith in our University and uphold our four Core Values.

Quality Assurance Audit 

The Audit Panel of the Quality Assurance Council under the University Grants Committee made a one-day visit to our campus on 4 December to give us an Institutional Briefing and to hold their first meeting in preparation for their on-site audit on 26-29 January 2016.  I believe colleagues and students will be excited to showcase the very best of our strengths and achievements to the Audit Panel when they are here, recognizing that there is always room for improvement and that we have ideas where further improvement can be made.

On this festive season, may I wish you and your family a joyful Christmas filled with love and blessings, and a fruitful new year ahead!

Leonard K Cheng