From Aberdeen to Aberdeen: a tale of two cities

Two students walking around Aberdeen's historic campus

This article was first published in The Standard, Hong Kong. You can view their version here.

Among the most iconic and enduring images of old Hong Kong are the old photographs of the ‘floating villages’ in Aberdeen Harbour, located between Hong Kong Island’s southern coast and the outlying islet of Ap Lei Chau. Known for its famous floating restaurants, some fishing families still live on houseboats in the harbour.  

Aberdeen Harbour has become synonymous with images of Hong Kong. Bruce Lee used Aberdeen Harbour as a location in his famous film, Enter The Dragon. And from Xbox games to Lara Croft, a new generation of movie goers and gamers is familiar with its waterfront. But this place also has a personal connection to me and my own home, because Aberdeen Harbour was named in memory of George Hamilton Gordon, Earl of Aberdeen and a former British Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs and then Prime Minister.

Living connections

British rule is over. But living connections between these two cities remain. Aberdeen in Scotland is where I studied History in the 1980s. And its great university is where my own daughter and many modern Hong Kong students will attend this year. . Founded in the 1400s to train teachers, doctors and lawyers, Aberdeen University is now also a kind of academic harbour - home to a community of international students and scholars, one of the best universities of its type in the UK.

A chapel on the University of Aberdeen's campus

The first Chinese student to formally graduate in Britain was Dr. Wong Fun (Huang Kuan) who attended Edinburgh University Medical School from 1850 to 1855. He later returned to China where he practised as a surgeon. Today there are 17,630 students enrolled in UK universities from Hong Kong alone.

Hong Kong also has its own great universities and attracts students from around the world to study law and medicine, business, science, technology and commerce. My own company works closely with the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology. And as I visit the city to talk to international education partners and those who support students to travel overseas to pursue their studies, I will be as keen to learn as I am to share opportunities for students in the U.K.   

Hong Kong is famously a city of ports and harbours, a gateway city for the world. As you approach the airport, the clouds part to reveal the inlets and natural harbours which have shaped its identity as a place of connection and trade. But perhaps the most important global goods are not carried on container ships but are information and ideas that are exchanged between students, researchers, leaders and global citizens. These are the precious cargo of our universities, shared by our students and universities. And that is a history and a connection truly worth celebrating.