Vice-Chancellor Peter Mathieson on the value of education

Vice-Chancellor Peter Mathieson on the value of education
Photo by Cici Gu/ The Lion Post
Photo by Cici Gu/ The Lion Post

Professor Peter Mathieson, the President and Vice-Chancellor of the University of Hong Kong, gave a talk on the book, Nelson Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom on March 3 at the Main Library. The book talk was organized by the University Libraries and was attended by HKU students, staff, alumni and members of the public.

The University Libraries have been organizing talks for 50 years, and this was their first time to have a Vice-Chancellor agree to conduct a session. Describing Professor Mathieson as “interesting and friendly”, the book talk organizer considered this to be a good opportunity for people to meet him in a more casual setting.

The book in focus was chosen by Professor Mathieson himself, who first read this autobiography of Nelson Mandela 20 years ago. He said that this book had greatly contributed to his own education and had even led him to stay in the field of education till today. He was particularly drawn to the portrayal of Africa and Mandela’s leadership.

“I can’t really do anything about the problems in this country. But because I became convinced that the one thing I can do is teaching, that I could provide education. – that would help at least in a small way. That notion became my motivation during my first visit [to Africa].  I think that largely expresses why I read this book in the first place, and why I am still attached to it. Everything good that happens in my life has been directly related to education. And that’s why I ended up going [in]to education myself, I ended up running a university.”

Describing the talk as “fascinating”, Yu Wanqing, a first-year student majoring in Economics and Finance at HKU, said she was encouraged to attend it mainly for the chance to meet the Vice-Chancellor and also by the interest in the topic of freedom.

The talk was followed by a Q&A session that let the audience get to know Professor Mathieson better. An HKU graduate in attendance asked the professor for his opinion on the causes of the devaluation of university degrees nowadays. With the rapid expansion of tertiary education in Hong Kong for the past few decades, there are concerns that university degrees no longer hold as much value as they did back in the 1990s. In the 1970s, Hong Kong had only 2 local universities. Today, there are 8 tertiary education institutes that are funded by the city’s Universities Grants Committee

Acknowledging the circumstances HKU students are facing right now, Professor Mathieson said, “Education access is now at a pretty high level in Hong Kong compared to elsewhere.”

But he questioned whether that high level of access really ‘devalues’ education or makes the education itself more accessible and thus, more ‘balanced’. He “would not advocate restricted access to university education as a way of making it more valuable.” He went on to stress that university education is not the only way of gaining developmental skills. The value of a university education depends on what one expects to gain from it and also, do afterwards.

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