Message from the President and Vice-Chancellor

Ready to Launch

The image of a boat setting sail evokes thoughts of new journeys, fresh horizons, promise and potential. Over the past three years, I have had the great privilege of preparing HKU to lift its sails and venture forth – to dream big and build momentum in its quest towards excellence. Our destination is to be a global leader making impact in Hong Kong, China and the world. Like any major undertaking, there have been challenges and crises, but the University has demonstrated that it has the strengths and determination to move beyond these. 2020–21 has seen us pass important milestones on our journey.

Teaching and Research in 2020-21: Embarking from a Position of Strength   

First, it was very pleasing to see the University sustain its existing strengths given the restrictions of COVID-19 that have been felt around the world. We attracted the most top scorers in the Hong Kong Diploma of Secondary Education Examination (HKDSE) of all Hong Kong universities (admitting 76 candidates who scored 5** in four or more core subjects), as well as strong candidates from Mainland China and overseas. I also took great pride in our students’ sporting achievements at this year’s Tokyo Olympics, where three current students and two alumni represented Hong Kong.

Our teachers kept up their high standards and ensured students fulfilled curriculum requirements, despite having to adapt to the online environment. After much careful preparation and due consideration to health and safety, the University was able to resume mostly face-to-face learning in September 2021. This has energised everyone. Being on campus and interacting in person is essential to students’ learning and personal development, and it makes teaching and learning immensely more enjoyable. It is also the preference of both staff and students. Having said that, we will continue to explore the use of technology to enrich learning and take it in new directions.

Honours came in for both teaching and research achievements during the year. HKU won the University Grants Committee’s 2021 Teaching Awards for general faculty members and teams, while 31 researchers were named by Clarivate as being among the most highly cited scholars in their fields in the world. Our researchers also received numerous international and national honours for outstanding work, as described in the Research and Innovation chapter.

Most importantly, the high quality of our research output across the University was endorsed in the Research Grants Council’s Research Assessment Exercise, which is held every five years. Some 75% of our research output was deemed internationally excellent or world-leading – a fantastic increase on previous performance when 50% of output met this bar. We also had the highest proportion of world-leading research of all universities. Our performance in local competitive funding exercises also continued to be the best in Hong Kong, while we secured the most projects under InnoHK where we lead nine laboratories receiving more than HK$3 billion in total.

These are strong foundations. However, I believe we have the potential to reach far greater heights. HKU is facing a wave of exceptional opportunities and fierce competition from others around the region, and we need to act quickly to sustain and advance our position. My team and I have taken on that challenge with a vision that asks everyone from professors and students to managers and support staff: how can we do better?


Campus development has been a major focus of activity from the beginning of my tenure and I am pleased to report that we are making excellent progress. Over the coming five years, a number of new developments will reach completion.


Adding Ballast: Recruiting the Best for All

In order to pivot quickly to new opportunities, raise the bar and achieve our highest ambitions, we need more talent and space – more room to grow and more people to help us get there.

Starting last year, we launched a drive to recruit the world’s best scholars to HKU. Their presence will augment the work of our existing strong team of researchers, as well as stimulate them with new ideas and new visions of greatness – and encourage them to reach for the stars. The HKU Global Professoriate Recruitment Campaign has been recruiting world-leading researchers from other world-renowned universities. We also have recent schemes to recruit 100 each of outstanding young professors, postdoctoral fellows and PhD students, and we are participating in the government’s Global STEM Professorship Scheme where we secured nearly one-third of available positions in the first round (15 of 46 positions).

The presence of more top-flight scholars will imbue HKU with advantages that resonate across the University. They will bring in more research funding, which will grow the pie of resources. They will also lift the visibility and international profile of the University as a whole. This is a win-win situation that promises to enrich all of our scholars and students with new opportunities and growth.  


Professor Zhang and students at the HKU Mentorship Inauguration Ceremony 2021 held in Loke Yew Hall where mentors and mentees had an enjoyable first encounter.

Getting HKU Shipshape: Building Bigger, Serving Better

Our plans cannot be achieved without upgrading and expanding our campus facilities, which are small, cramped, and inadequate to meet the challenges of 21st century research and teaching. Campus development has been a major focus of activity from the beginning of my tenure and I am pleased to report that we are making excellent progress. Over the coming five years, a number of new developments will reach completion: the Tech Landmark, which will house 10 interdisciplinary institutes and the new International Innovation Centre to cultivate future talent; new research and teaching blocks under the Li Ka Shing Faculty of Medicine; the Pokfield Campus with a home for the HKU Business School, residences for scholars, and conference and other facilities; four new student residential developments; and advanced sports facilities. 

Alongside these new constructions, we are modernising and enhancing the efficiency and performance of our operations and support services. This means improving digital platforms, ensuring we have the capabilities to make data-driven decisions, and strengthening our culture of service. The We Serve programme, as it has been named, aims to make it simpler and more straightforward to handle administrative matters and to enhance the quality of working life for everyone on campus. This will make us more fit for purpose and give us a sturdier springboard for engagement with the region, which is also about to be stepped up.


Professor Zhang witnessed HKU’s historic victory in the University Sports Federation Men’s Soccer Championship. 

Full Steam Ahead to the Greater Bay Area 

To enhance HKU’s footprint on the Mainland and leverage on the Greater Bay Area (GBA)’s development potential for technology and innovation, the University has been stepping up its outreach in recent years, with some of our teaching programmes establishing a presence in places such as Beijing and Shanghai, our scholars regularly collaborating on research projects with their Mainland peers and our medical faculty managing the HKU-Shenzhen Hospital. The signing of a Memorandum of Understanding to establish an entire new campus in Shenzhen will strengthen these efforts and enable us to play a leading and contributing role to the development of Hong Kong, China and this region of the world as a whole.

The campus will be located in Shi Bi Long of the Nanshan district and be built in phases. HKU and the Shenzhen government have established a joint steering group to work out details, with the goal of bringing HKU’s model as a world-class comprehensive research-led university deeper into the GBA to nurture talents and research. This is important to HKU’s own ambitions, too, because we are limited by space constraints. Even with our considerable building development plans within Hong Kong, the University would remain quite small. We need to grow in order to flourish.

A campus in Shenzhen presents opportunities to engage in larger-scale research, conduct medical research and education with a larger, more varied patient population, bring our top-tier teaching and curriculum to more students, and bring us closer to industry partners in Shenzhen to translate our upstream original research into applications that are useful to the world. These opportunities are unprecedented and promise to benefit the University and Hong Kong.  


Professor Zhang visited St. John’s College and mingled with undergraduates and postgraduates at the Common Room. He was also presented with an antithetical couplet composed and calligraphed by two St. Johnians. 

Sailing Past Distractions to New Horizons

Amidst this impressive pace of progress, I have continued to reach out to students and staff to engage them in our ambitious plans and reaffirm our values. I engaged with students and visited halls and sporting events to keep our channels of communication open and convey to them the very bright prospects of our shared future. On academic freedom, I have also sought to reassure staff and students that while we must all act within the law, the University remains committed to that principle. The pursuit of knowledge and wisdom must continue, as must dialogues that are civilised and respectful of each other’s opinions. These messages are essential to my vision for HKU and they also serve us in meeting the challenges facing all of society in the 2020s.

The theme of this message is about setting sail and venturing forth. Our sights are on the horizon and the opportunities that lie there, but we are also conscious of the need to navigate obstacles and not get anchored down by the polarisation of views that affects many places in the world today. I believe the best way to do that, and to have people listen to and respect us, is by demonstrating our excellence in everything we do. Fortunately, as this Annual Report shows, we are making steady progress in that direction.

My three years as President of HKU have been spent bringing the University to the point of lifting its sails ever higher and setting off to new destinations. I am extremely fortunate to be ably supported by my management team and all colleagues across the University. As we prepare to celebrate our 111th anniversary next year – the triple ‘1’ has an auspicious ring to it – I am delighted to confirm that I will serve another five-year term beyond the current one and continue to steer HKU to new horizons that will sustain the University’s excellence for decades to come.


Professor Xiang Zhang

President and Vice-Chancellor

December 2021