Professor QIU Yong
President of Tsinghua University
24 April 2021
Welcome to the Global Forum of University Presidents 2021. This event brings us together in the spirit of celebration, collaboration, and as leaders of our shared future. I am grateful that so many have joined the Forum here at Tsinghua and online around the world. Thank you for being part of this historic event.
Not far from where I am standing is one of Tsinghua’s most iconic monuments, a sundial which was presented by the graduating Class of 1920. The sundial bears the maxim 行胜于言in Chineseand Facta Non Verba in Latin: Actions Speak Louder than Words. It serves as a reminder to all Tsinghua people that their responsibility and call to action are as unceasing as the passage of time itself. As a marker of time, the sundial reflects the past, announces the present and carries us into the future. Yet it measures time from the sun that we all stand beneath, reminding us of our connection to one another. We all have our sundials, we all have our responsibilities and we are all part of the same constellation of brilliance and human aspirations that is higher education.
As I pass this sundial every morning, I can sense the resiliency of the university around me. From its students who share the dream of improving the world, to its faculty whose tireless efforts ushered in a new era of learning and brought timely advances in the fight against Covid-19, to its leadership who believe universities are strongest when they are open to each other and responsive to the needs of society.
Higher education is facing profound challenges that unite us now in a different way. We face global health, access, and mobility challenges, which have required us to find global solutions. Like many other university presidents, I began thinking of ways in which the institution I lead can harness its unique placement, its institutional character and its resources to take action.
Today and over the past week we have attempted to address this Forum’s central theme, Innovate for the Future: Vision and New Mission for Universities. I appreciate the efforts made by all contributors. Your insights and wisdom have been essential, particularly as the sessions culminate in today’s plenary. We started with the theme University as a Cultural Space: Looking Back into the Future; moved to Global Carbon Neutrality: Universities Responsibility and Action; then explored Rethinking the Future and New Mission of Online Education; followed by Global University Leadership.
Throughout these sessions, I heard many stories of action and I have been inspired by the strength, resilience and determination each one of you has shown.
The historical context of this Forum can be considered from three perspectives. Each provides insights for the present and lessons for the future.
The first is the profound and urgent nature of global challenges that are with us now and on the horizon. In the last sixteen months, higher education has been tested by a once-in-a-century pandemic. But Covid-19 has only added to a long list of severely disruptive global challenges, like climate change, social inequality, and the threat to international collaboration and exchange. Through this test, we now understand the effort needed to overcome threats of this magnitude and we have proven that even closer collaboration will be needed to overcome future challenges.
The second perspective is the approaching millennial marking point of university education. Universities are among the longest surviving institutions in human history. This reminds us of the enduring potential and the hopeful expectations of universities going forward – as well as universities’ increasing capacity to benefit society.
The third perspective is Tsinghua’s 110th anniversary. This is a good time to explore the past, present and future of the University’s development, and to celebrate our collaborative achievements with our cherished global partners.
The three perspectives have made this Forum uniquely tied to the present. Following the maxim of Actions Speak Louder than Words, we have gathered together in an innovative way, to embrace the responsibility that leadership has given us, and to meet a societal need to define the vision and new mission of universities.
Thank you to the speakers and panelists in today’s session, and to all participants and supporters of the Global Forum of University Presidents for your invaluable contributions.
As we reflect on the vision and new mission of universities, let’s explore the current dynamic of higher education from three university mandates: One, universities are expected to remain steadfast in cultivating their values and identity; Two, universities are expected to remain connected with each other; and Three, universities are expected to remain focused on the future.
The first mandate is for universities to remain steadfast in cultivating their values and identity.
In Greek philosophy, Socrates proposed the “care of the soul” and cultivation of virtues as the most important human obligations. Similarly, the Chinese philosopher Mencius was known to have said “大人者，不失其赤子之心者也”, which can be understood as: “To reach greatness or a state of leadership requires a pure heart-mind”. The same can be said of universities’ faithful commitment to the cultivation of their core values and identity. This allows universities to stay true to their unique strengths and use these advantages for the benefit of all.
Like many universities, Tsinghua has remained steadfast to its traditions and values to thrive in challenging times. During World War Two and the Anti-Fascist war, Chinese universities faced existential threats. Driven by their commitment to teaching and research, Tsinghua University, Peking University and Nankai University temporarily merged and moved to China’s south west to form the National South-West Associated University. The then Tsinghua president implored the university community to, “conduct practical science as a matter of national urgency”. Rising to meet that need amidst the tragedy and destruction of war, Tsinghua established five special research institutes: agriculture, aviation, radio, metal science and national census.
During the outbreak of Covid-19, the unique strengths of Tsinghua were on full display. Tsinghua immediately responded with proactive measures to cope with the outbreak while remaining true to its commitment to educational excellence. Through technologies that enable real-time, interactive and remote online teaching, Tsinghua launched a fully-supported online learning environment in two weeks and started the spring term with an online lecture that drew 57,000 Tsinghua students, faculty, staff, and alumni. The University delivered over three thousand, nine-hundred spring term courses without losing one day of instruction, marking the beginning of a profound transformation in teaching methodology.
From then until now, Tsinghua students and faculty are actively supporting the fight against the coronavirus. They are researching cures, they continue to join the front lines around the world, and they are always volunteering. Our subsidiaries and startups leverage their advantages towards the cause, while our broad network of alumni help in many ways. Tsinghua, like universities around the world, lives out the spirit of cooperation and service and bravely take on responsibility.
Throughout the pandemic, universities continued to inspire through their unwavering commitment to education, research, and community service. In particular, universities have a vital role in vaccine development, contributing to the unprecedented efforts to inoculate the entire world population. Research efforts, real-time pandemic monitoring, and information-sharing have contributed to the hope that humanity will soon overcome this health crisis.
The second mandate is for universities to remain connected with each other.
In 2016, Tsinghua University initiated the first global strategy in its history. We aimed to deepen our engagement with the world, and to cultivate innovative talents who possess global competence. Together with our global partners, we established a range of collaborative initiatives: The Global Innovation Exchange Institute in Seattle, USA; The China-Italy Design Innovation Hub in Milan, Italy; Tsinghua’s Southeast Asia Center in Bali, Indonesia and Tsinghua’s Latin America Center in Santiago, Chile.
We have witnessed the growing significance of university networks as well as collaborative initiatives with international organizations. As Covid-19 gained momentum in the first half of 2020, Tsinghua harnessed its international ties to support students, provide emergency assistance, and advance commonly held best practices.
In April 2020, Tsinghua and UNESCO jointly initiated a special dialogue and explored the challenges of online education during the pandemic and announced greater global accessibility to Tsinghua’s online educational resources.
To help mitigate the impact on students in the most severely affected areas of China, Tsinghua expanded its social engagement by offering over one-thousand, nine-hundred courses openly available to the public. The University also provided “Clone Classes” to universities in stricken areas of Hubei province and other regions throughout China. To minimize disruption to graduating students, the University extended its resources and partnerships to over one hundred universities in Hubei and organized a number of online recruitment sessions.
The desire to look outward and stay connected to others in need was embodied by volunteer groups such as Tsinghua’s Postgraduate Voluntary Teaching Corps. Despite the extraordinary challenges during the pandemic, they continued decades of service in rural and remote environments to provide education and contribute to national poverty alleviation efforts in places where people need us most.
Similarly, universities are leading the charge to solve the problems presented by climate change. In May 2019, the Global Alliance of Universities on Climate was officially launched at Tsinghua University. The Alliance facilitates greater levels of collaboration on climate issues, greater engagement with climate stakeholders, and the worldwide promotion of environmental practices advanced by universities. We are proud of these collaborative achievements, and the demonstration of confidence they hold for our future leadership in the fields of public health, climate change and online education.
The third mandate is for universities to remain focused on the future by embracing innovation.
Human civilization aspires to the ideals and values that universities embody. Universities inherit knowledge and culture, and cultivate future talent through borderless collaboration with governments, enterprises, and international organizations.
Despite the uncertainty caused by Covid-19, technology has offered credible solutions to an unprecedented problem. Online tools and advanced technologies have propelled the development of teaching and learning. These developments have the potential to address the problem of inequality in education. At the time of the crisis, I said that “screens are not barriers for interactions, but new bridges between faculty and students”.
Acting on my commitment to this principle, I was proud to co-launch the Global MOOC Alliance last December. This network of universities and online education platforms facilitate international cooperation and exchanges in educational technologies. Its members are implementing online education standards across the world. I am confident that the network will make a significant contribution towards achieving the UN SDG number 4: to ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promoting lifelong learning opportunities for all.
These initiatives, like many others highlighted during this Forum, have underscored universities’ common commitment to serve society and address urgent challenges faced by humanity.
It is inspiring to see that the outcomes of this Forum have been articulated in the Consensus. Expanding on the core ideas of this Consensus, we believe universities should become more open, more integrative and more resilient in the future.
First, “more open”: Universities promote inclusive environments to address the challenges of this new era. University openness contributes to the development of its country, the well-being of its people, and the progress of human civilization. “Openness” promotes values that are compassionate, inclusive and equitable. “Openness” encourages greater understanding and overcomes anxiety and uncertainty. Greater openness expands students’ understanding of the world and supports the promotion of global and leadership competencies. Universities that are more open are better committed to collaborative programs and research that advance human knowledge and cultural understanding.
Second, “more integrative”: Universities break through physical boundaries, disciplinary barriers and technological limitations to make greater contributions to society. “More integrative” is about satisfying diverse learning needs from different groups. It is about providing innovative solutions from interdisciplinary perspectives and strengthening cross-sector engagement with societies, governments, international organizations and industries. It is my hope that university education will achieve a more in-depth and more natural integration: in class and after class, on and off campus, domestic and foreign, online and offline. Universities that are more open and integrative will shoulder greater responsibilities.
Third, “more resilient”: Universities demonstrate their resilience by continuing to thrive as one of the oldest institutions in existence. Being “more resilient” is about adaptive strength, anticipating need, and exhibiting leadership that inspires. When crises hit, our resiliency enables us to rise to meet the challenges and to transform them into opportunities to grow and learn. I am convinced that universities will play an irreplaceable role in tackling global challenges, and will make humanity better prepared for future crises, by creating knowledge, striving for innovation, and cultivating leaders and change makers.
This Forum has addressed the complexity of higher education, it has sparked a collaborative spirit in pursuit of greater synergy among universities, and it has enhanced the capacity of universities to define and redefine their collective vision and mission.
Looking to the future, universities will shoulder ever-increasing responsibility to solve common challenges faced by humanity. This is a future in which we can be fully confident. With the optimism and unity that this Global Forum has instilled, I hope you will see the Consensus as a new starting point. One that will guide our vision and mission going forward – a rallying call that our Actions Speak Louder than Words and to carry forward the excellence and innovation that universities have represented for a millennium.
The contributions made by all participants and supporters of this Forum have led to a great anticipation of the lasting impact which this Forum will leave for future generations.
(This article first appeared on https://www.tsinghua.edu.cn/en/info/1245/10232.htm)