Universities Must Ignite the Sparks of Innovation

Nancy Ip discusses how universities can boost their output of patents and support faculty entrepreneurs.

For innovation to thrive, it is important for universities to create an environment where students, faculty, and staff can follow their passions, share ideas, collaborate with each other – and with industry.

At the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology (HKUST), we recognise the pivotal role that exceptional talent plays in driving innovation, which is why we have recently launched the ‘30 for 30’ talent acquisition campaign. This initiative aims to attract 30 leading experts in key strategic areas that are essential for addressing pressing issues facing humankind and the planet today. 

HKUST’s efforts to recruit and nurture talent have positively impacted society on various fronts. Through our knowledge transfer pipeline and vast industry network, we empower our members to transform their research into real-world applications. Nearly 30 per cent of our patents are authorised for industrial use, a rate on par with world-leading universities such as MIT. These efforts have led to innovations such as unmanned vessels, drones, and self-driving vehicles, among others. 

Our knowledge transfer initiatives boost economic growth as well as entrepreneurship. To date, HKUST members have founded over 1,600 active start ups, including nine unicorns and 11 successful exits (from initial public offerings or mergers and acquisitions), with an economic impact exceeding HK$400 billion (£40 billion). To further support our entrepreneurs, we recently increased the inventors’ royalty share from 10-50 per cent to 70 per cent. Our members are also encouraged to showcase their inventions on the global stage. At this year’s International Exhibition of Inventions Geneva, the HKUST team garnered 20 awards. 

These achievements would not be possible without an innovation ecosystem that facilitates collaboration among multiple parties. We have forged partnerships with governments, world-class labs, academic institutions and organisations to establish cutting-edge research hubs, attracting researchers from diverse backgrounds and areas of expertise. 

We have also leveraged policy support from the HKSAR government to bring together expertise from around the world. The government-funded InnoHK initiative, for example, has allowed us to join hands with renowned mainland and overseas institutions such as University College London, École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne, and Tsinghua University to establish three pioneering research centres at the Hong Kong Science and Technology Park to advance neurodegenerative disease research, AI chip design and automation technologies, and modern robotic methods in construction. 

Our world class institutes, research centres, and national laboratories, such as the State Key Laboratories, support talent growth and provide advanced research platforms. To encourage our members to translate ideas into action, we have transformed our campus into an enormous experimental lab for testing sustainable and smart solutions before they are implemented in the real world. 

These are just some examples of how HKUST supports game-changing frontier research and innovation development. Our Innovation Building, currently under construction, is another vital component of our dynamic innovation ecosystem. We are also planning an additional research building in the biological sciences. 

The university’s development reached a significant milestone in September 2022, when HKUST (Guangzhou) officially opened. Our Guangzhou campus is designed to facilitate cross-disciplinary studies through four academic hubs – Function, Information, Systems, and Society – and 16 research areas, that complement the well-established disciplinary fields at our Hong Kong campus. Together, the two campuses form a synergetic platform to provide top-notch education, research, innovation, and knowledge transfer while strengthening our ability to tackle pressing societal issues. Looking ahead, we plan to establish an HKUST Innovation Park inspired by Silicon Valley and Kendall Square in the US, which will enable us to expand cross-disciplinary collaborations across the Greater Bay Area and beyond. 

With the right blend of talent, structure, and culture, universities have the power to create lasting impacts that can better humanity. HKUST, together with other leading universities and our industry partners around the world, is committed to driving advancements in science, technology, and knowledge transfer to address global challenges and foster a world where societies can thrive sustainably and equitably. 

Source: Times Higher Education (THE)

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