You may well ask why? I have been privileged to receive many honours yet this one remains special.
While I was vice chancellor of the University of Cambridge, the opportunity for association with Sunway arose – a new university and a new project! What was and remains so exciting is the ambition of Sunway University to further the needs of Malaysia by providing high quality tertiary education and ultimately career opportunities but to develop this in a context of international excellence.
This is difficult yet in its first 10 years enormous progress has been made. The facilities for staff and students are excellent and they engage internationally, focusing on UN Development Targets. The interaction with fellows from the University of Cambridge is now real and equal – exciting that this could be achieved in such a short time.
Therefore, the foundation has provided the leadership and laid the groundwork for an academic institution that Malaysia can be proud of. I congratulate the foundation on its first 10 years and look forward to the continued development of an outstanding university.
I am writing this short piece while locked in the United Kingdom due to the global Covid-19 pandemic. This situation gives pause for thought as it has widespread implications for the university sector world-wide and how best the sector can deliver its mission “to serve society”.
My own professional clinical background is in infectious diseases which defines the perspective that I can bring to bear. How we emerge from this situation is the major question and ultimately this depends on several aspects.
> The nature of the infectious agent: This is a ribonucleic acid (RNA) virus, the implication of this is that it can change or mutate rapidly and spread in susceptible populations.
> The body’s response to the virus: We develop immunity to the virus on exposure but unfortunately this is often short-lived to other coronaviruses. This sets a difficult challenge to develop an effective vaccine (more than 150 candidates are being studied world-wide) and to deliver it to the many vulnerable communities around the world. As this virus can evolve rapidly, will the virus escape that vaccine-induced immunity and, will it be protective immunity that will it last? Even when we develop a vaccine, can it be produced affordably and at scale so that it can be delivered in a globally equitable manner?
History teaches us that social and economic change frequently follows pandemics. After this pandemic subsides, what changes can we predict – more on-line working, less travel, the nature of the workplace and how do we prepare for the next pandemic which is inevitable but when and what virus will cause it is unpredictable.
We must recognise that the many global problems pre-Covid have not gone away – cardiovascular disease and cancer remain challenges, climate change, environmental sustainability and an ageing population to name but a few but they now have to be solved in a post-Covid environment.
To my mind this places universities, such as Cambridge and Sunway, in the forefront. Universities remain among the few institutions capable of addressing these issues holistically and with an avowed commitment to “serve the community”.
But community in this context is not one institution, region or even one country but the global community and it will require global collaboration to achieve solutions.
Universities have always recognised this need for global collaboration as our values and are, in addition, trusted to deliver for the wider societal good. Each university has its own areas of excellence and can contribute.
For our academics the challenges are exciting because all academic disciplines can make a contribution. In addition to interdisciplinary collaboration, it will also require collaboration between the private and public sectors to ensure delivery of solutions – something universities are well acquainted with.
To deliver this, universities will need leadership, political courage from national leaders and funders to recognise that international collaboration is essential. As universities, we owe it to the many who have suffered through this pandemic and those who will be adversely affected by its economic consequences to help develop solutions and have the ambition to contribute to a global solution to Covid-19 but also the other issues that we face.
However, if we as institutions or individual academics fail to rise to this challenge then the trust that we are privileged to receive, could be eroded and with it the fundamental support of our communities that is essential for us to continue our mission “to serve society”.
About Prof Sir Leszek Borysiewicz FRS
Prof Sir Leszek Borysiewicz FRS is an Honorary Jeffrey Cheah Distinguished Professor in Sunway University and chairman of Cancer Research UK. Borysiewicz served as vice-chancellor of the University of Cambridge from 2011-2017, and is now Emeritus vice-chancellor.
Born in 1951, Borysiewicz’s Polish parents trekked across Central Asia to Egypt and then the UK after fleeing from Nazi capture following the outbreak of World War II. It was in the UK that they had their son. It is safe to say that his parents played a vital role in his own life story.
His lifelong research interest in immunology was spurred after witnessing a number of odd attempted kidney transplants – in which the kidney survived but patients suffered harmful effects as a result. His research specialisms also include infectious diseases, cell mediated immunity and vaccine development.
He was appointed as chairman of Cancer Research UK (CRUK) in November 2016. Borysiewicz has enjoyed a distinguished academic and clinical research career over the years, he has been chief executive of the UK's Medical Research Council since 2007, and also served as principal of the Faculty of Medicine and later as deputy rector at Imperial College London from 2001 to 2007.
Through his role at Imperial, he oversaw the overall academic and scientific direction of the institution, particularly the development of inter-disciplinary research between engineering, physical sciences and biomedicine.
He was also a founding fellow of the Academy of Medical Sciences. He was knighted in 2001 for his breakthroughs in vaccines, including developing Europe’s first trial of a vaccine to treat cervical cancer.
Brought to you by Jeffrey Cheah Foundation in conjunction with its 10th anniversary.
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