Vice-Chancellor's visit to East Asia, 12-18 May 2012

At least once a year I like to travel to East Asia to connect with our many alumni, friends and partners there. My last trip had been in April 2011 and as well as returning to Hong Kong and Beijing I was excited to be able to include Tokyo in my itinerary. Having spent three months living in Kyoto in 1987 it was a pleasure to be back in Japan. Our links with Hong Kong, China and Japan are many and varied and the Oxford China Office and Oxford Japan Office had put together a very full programme of alumni events, Oxford academic lectures, meetings with institutional partners and supporters and other outreach activities.

Our arrival on Saturday 12th May was followed by a hugely successful event with over 100 alumni and guests present – the  latest in the series of 'Oxford Hong Kong Alumni Lectures'. Professor Russell Foster captured everyone's attention with his fascinating lecture on the Biology of Sleep – a cautionary tale for many of us in the room – and the question and answer session could have carried on for a long time. His new book "Sleep: A short introduction" flew off the table as he was signing copies after his talk. After the lecture, there was lots of time to catch up with old and new friends.

VC at storytelling at Oxford Path, Hong Kong Sunday 13th May was a busy day, including an interview at 'Radio, Television Hong Kong', together with Dr Stephen Tommis, founding director of the Hong Kong Academy for Gifted Education, about giftedness. 'Giftedness' is not a concept that Oxford uses in its approach to admission or education, but it was fascinating to have a frank exchange of views about what makes a student talented and leads to excellence. The highlight of the day, however, was the opportunity to read to a lovely group of young children as part of Oxford University Press's 'Oxford Path Storytelling' series (right). The 'Oxford Path' initiative in Hong Kong is introducing children to the English language – and of course to Oxford – at a young age and it was a delight to have the opportunity to read to them about 'Kaboo the Flying Postman'.

Early on Monday morning we flew onto Beijing. The two-hour flight delay meant that the itinerary for the rest of the day was rather an interesting challenge but we thankfully managed to make it to all our appointments. I was delighted to meet with Minister of Health Chen Zhu, together with colleagues Professor Peter Ratcliffe and Professor Xin Lu from the Nuffield Department of Medicine (image right shows Professor Peter Ratcliffe, Chen Zhu and VC). Professor Peter Ratcliffe, Chen Zhu and VC We acknowledged the great partnership that already exists between Oxford and China in the medical sciences and exchanged views on where the potential for future collaboration might lie. One possible area of expansion is to collaborate on disaster medical humanitarian assistance, a new focus for the Ministry of Health.

We met next with Dr Guo Shuqing, now Chairman of the Securities and Regulatory Commission and formerly Chairman of China Construction Bank. Oxford's Said Business School has run four highly successful Executive Education programmes for CCB staff and we were delighted to hear that Dr Guo is keen to encourage further programmes in the future for a range of government agencies and bodies, including the CSRC. We look forward to strengthening this link in the future and providing training for a widening range of partners.

After rushing through Beijing's infamous traffic, I had the honour of officially opening the new Oxford University (Beijing) Science and Technology Office, which has a beautiful view over Beijing's new CCTV tower. The office supports the Nuffield Department of Medicine's ACE trials in China. Its opening underlines the strength of Oxford's collaborations in China in the Medical Sciences. This was further highlighted by our next event that evening – a celebration of Oxford and China's collaborations in the Medical Sciences. Many NDM colleagues had made the journey, including Professor Rury Holman, Dr Peter Horby, Professor Sir Andrew McMichael, Professor Peter Ratcliffe and Professor Emily Chan. It was wonderful to hear about the great work that these academics and their colleagues are doing, with an audience of both their Chinese partners and more than 100 Beijing alumni and friends. The reception afterwards – under a beautifully clear sky on the roof terrace of the Kerry Hotel – provided us with a great opportunity to talk to those alumni and other supporters of Oxford in Beijing and it was as always heartening to be reminded of the international reach that the University has. Many guests stayed well into the evening.

The next morning, on Tuesday 15th May, I was honoured to speak at the very well-attended launch event organised by the Oxford Chinese Students and Scholars Association for the publication of their book "Chinese Minds Revealed in Oxford". The event underlined the dynamism of our alumni community in China and the success of this Association. As well as other speeches by contributors to the book and by Mr Tian Xiaogang, Former Minister Counsellor of the Chinese Embassy in the UK, Mr Zhou Kangliang exhibited his beautiful black and white photographs of Oxford while alumni in the room reminisced about their time there.

Other meetings on 15th May included an opportunity to meet Tsinghua University's new President, Professor Chen Jining. The meeting was held in a beautiful courtyard location within Tsinghua's campus and we had an extremely productive and pleasant meeting, talking about ways in which our two institutions could continue to cooperate in the future. I was joined for discussions by colleagues from the Nuffield Department of Medicine and the Department for Continuing Education, while Professor Chen was joined by colleagues from the School of Medicine, School of Law and the Office of International Cooperation and Exchange.

It was also my honour during that day to preside, together with Professor Fang Xin, Member of the Chinese Academy of Sciences Presidium, over the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding between CAS's Centre for Innovation and Development and the nascent Technology and Management for Development Centre in Oxford. Dr Fu Xiaolan, Director of the Centre, was also present for Oxford. This, we hope, is the first step in what will be a lasting partnership between Oxford University and the Chinese Academy of Sciences. The signing took place in the new CAS Institute of Policy and Management building – a striking neo-classical construction opened in 2010.

Wednesday 16th May started with an early flight across to Tokyo. We were welcomed very warmly by the Uehiro Foundation, who were kind enough to have organised our stay in Tokyo. Our first stop was to see the new location of Oxford University's office in Japan – kindly provided to us in the Uehiro Foundation building. I was delighted to have the opportunity to meet our new Director Designate of the Oxford Japan Office, Ms Alison Beale – currently Deputy Director of the British Council in Tokyo. We had the opportunity to sit down with a delegation from Kyoto University, including its Vice President Professor Keisuke Makino, to talk about our collaborations, for example in the area of technology transfer. The evening's events began with Professor Tony Hope giving the inaugural Oxford Academics in Japan Lecture, talking about the role of ethics in the practice of medicine. The subsequent alumni reception was attended by over 200 guests – which is an astounding number considering there are just over 1,000 alumni in all of Japan. The enthusiasm in the room was palpable and the lively atmosphere was a real testament to the commitment that our alumni and friends feel to Oxford.

VC and Noriko Ikari, General Manager, CSR Department, Nissan at Nissan Headquarters Our first appointment on Thursday 17th May was a short trip to Yokohama to meet with colleagues at Nissan (Image right shows VC and Noriko Ikari, General Manager, CSR Department, Nissan at Nissan Headquarters). Not only does Nissan continue actively to support the work of the Nissan Institute of Japanese Studies, based in St Antony's College, it is also collaborating with Professor Paul Newman's Oxford Mobile Robotics Group and has a research engineer located within the group. It was a great opportunity to reaffirm our strong relationship.

After a delightful meeting with one of our prominent alumni in Japan – Prince Akishino – I had the pleasure of attending part of the Uehiro Carnegie Oxford Conference 2012 on 'Life: Its Nature, Value and Meaning'. The Oxford delegation at the conference was led by the Uehiro Professor of Practical Ethics, Julian Savulescu.

After a fascinating Keynote Speech by Professor Shinya Yamanake from Kyoto University on "Induction of Pluripotency by Defined Factors" about the beginnings of stem cell research and developments in their use over the past decades, the Uehiro Foundation hosted a wonderful dinner within the old elegance of Tokyo's International House.

VC, Alison Beale and Kenji Aiba at British Ambassador’s Residence, Tokyo On our final day in the Far East, Friday 18th, we had the opportunity to meet with several contacts interested in supporting the Japan Office's work over breakfast at the British Embassy, kindly hosted by the Ambassador. Another full day of meetings and interviews included the honour of meeting with Crown Prince Naruhito and Crown Princess Masako, both Oxford alumni. We were grateful that they took time out of their extremely busy schedule. The day ended with the presentation to Mr Kenji Aiba (shown right with Alison Beale and Andrew Hamilton), the Japan Representative of ISIS Innovation, of his OBE by the Ambassador Sir David Warren. It was a beautifully warm evening and a wonderful way to end such a busy and productive trip – acknowledging the great contribution that Mr Aiba has made to Britain and thanking him for the support he has shown to Oxford University and the work he is still doing to contribute to higher education.

Upon my return from this exciting, varied and stimulating trip, I have had a chance to reflect on all the magnificent links we were able to reaffirm and reinforce during our time in Hong Kong, Beijing and Tokyo. It is so inspiring to see Oxford's international reach – whether it is through its alumni, through its partnerships in the medical sciences or other areas, through its Executive and Continuing Education programmes or through its institutional links – in such strong evidence in three separate cities on the other side of the world. There are so many opportunities for Oxford University in East Asia and I am excited by what we are already doing there and how much more there is for us to do. Higher Education is evolving at an incredible pace in those places, particularly in China, and I look forward to seeing what the developments will bring and how we can continue to engage in the region in the years to come.