By: Chan Ji-Quandt
Kuala Lumpur, 1 April 2016 – Datuk Dr Paul Chan, Vice-Chancellor and President of HELP University is the first Malaysian to win the prestigious International Alumnus Award from his alma mater, the Australian National University.
The ANU Alumni Awards is a suite of prestigious awards launched four years ago to recognize and celebrate the achievements of its outstanding alumni and their achievements since graduation.
Nominees must show evidence of their work regionally or to the international community, including an outline of their role, and their work. They must also explain what sort of impact the ANU has had on their career and achievements, and how the nominee has stayed involved in the ANU community.
Those who are familiar with Datuk Paul Chan’s story of the establishment of the HELP Group, as well as his academic, entrepreneurship, research and economic policy contributions to the nation, would agree that this recognition from ANU, which is now one of the top 20 universities in the world, is well deserved. This is the second award that Datuk Paul Chan has received from the ANU. Earlier he was inducted into the ANU Alumni Hall of Fame.
Datuk Paul Chan was also the President of the ANU Alumni Association Malaysia, and chaired the ANU Alumni Scholarship Committee.
Datuk Paul Chan has fond memories of his time at ANU. He explained that it was a matter of chance that he bumped into the late Professor Heinz Arndt, Professor of Economics at ANU, who was visiting the University of Malaya. Datuk Paul gave him a ride back to the old Majestic Hotel, and during that journey he shared his dreams of studying economics at the ANU. One day he received a telegram from Professor Arndt that said “Are you coming or not?” The ANU had accepted his application and offered him a generous scholarship to pursue his PhD.
Datuk Paul Chan completed his master’s degree in Monetary and Mathematical Economics at McMaster University, packed his bags and left for Canberra with his wife Datin Chan-Low Kam Yoke. They spent three memorable years in Australia and their son Adam was born there.
“When we left Canada we decided to hitchhike across the United Kingdom, Europe, Lebanon, India, back to Malaysia, and finally to Canberra. It was such a great experience, and it forever changed us, as we imbibed the liberal ideas of liberty and democracy during our travels. Australia was such a different place from Canada. It was very quiet, compared to the hippy sixties, and the Woodstock era in the US and Canada. It was the time of the Black Panther Party, and Angela Davis,” remembered Datuk Paul.
“ANU and Australia were extremely generous to my family and I, and I’m very grateful. Australia has always had a special place in our hearts. The Australians were kind and helpful, they went out of their way to help us settle in, and we made lifelong friends. Our two children, Adam and Juliet attended boarding school and university, and spent their formative years in Adelaide,” said Datuk Paul Chan, who graduated with a PhD in Economics from the ANU in 1977.
Datuk Paul Chan and Datin Low naturally formed strong relationships with Australian partner universities, and over the last three decades, HELP University has sent thousands of students to complete their degrees in Australia.
During his visit to the ANU to receive the award, Datuk Paul Chan who came from the slums of Kuala Lumpur and overcame his hardship and circumstances, spent some time with the students from the Malaysian Students’ Organisation. He shared with them his life experiences and encouraged them to pursue their dreams. He told them that he learned one great lesson from his encounter with Professor Arndt, and that is do not fear to ask, but make sure you are worthy of what you are given and rise up to the expectations of the giver.
In his speech to the audience during the ANU Alumni Awards dinner held at Old Parliament House in Canberra, he said his time at ANU gave him the intellectual capability, a disciplined mind, enriching values, and life’s purpose. It has nurtured him with the capacity to renew, and the courage to choose.
“From this, I evolved my existentialist view of life: addressing the eternal questions: Do I understand the world? Who am I? Who should I be? This perpetual self-reflection leads me and my wife, Kam Yoke, to conclude that to educate is to live, and to live is to be free. Our mission is thus: To help people succeed in life, and to live a life of significance through education. To educate is ennobling: the ends are noble, the means are noble. We thus set up the HELP Education Group (Higher Education Learning Philosophy) to provide education opportunities for the disadvantaged, the disabled, and the denied – besides the talented,” said Datuk Paul Chan.
“The pursuit of peace, freedom and the use of market forces is still the dominant theme of the world. We should therefore not waste our creativity and resources for conflicts and wars. We should spend them on spreading quality education. Together, we should use education to inhabit the mind and occupy it with virtuous thoughts and other centred values.
“Humanities and Science should light the way for a better future: one that is based on faith with reason, the courage to be other centred, and to be compassionate. Then we can have the future that we desire, not one decided by others. We choose to choose, not to be chosen.
“This is the only way to stop the spread of certain nihilistic thinking and practices that spawn racial and religious hatred which now torment mankind. Philosophizing in existentialist terms about the essence of life matters. If we want to be free then we need to create the New Renaissance, one shaped by mindful education.
“We deserve this, and we owe it to the young generation who inherit what we leave behind.”