Call for Law Amendments to Safeguard Academic Freedom

PTU News Reporter

On 19 April HKPTU held a press conference concerning the possible abuse of power of the Chief Executive in his capacity as the chancellor of Hong Kong’s 10 higher education institutions. Ip Kin-yuen, our Legco representative, therefore announced that he will submit a private bill to introduce a review of the 10 ordinances governing the 10 higher education institutions. Fung Wai-wah, our President, pointed out that CY Leung in his capacity as the chancellor has undermined our long-standing tradition of academic autonomy.

Ip said, “The review will include questions on whether the Chief Executive should be appointed as chancellor and the number of council members s/he is entitled to appoint. We will also explore whether more representatives of teaching staff and students should be appointed in the university council and how to improve the transparency of the use of the Chief Executive’s power. We aim at introducing the review and amendment of the concerned ordinances within this session of the Legislative Council.”

Fung further stated that though the governors of Hong Kong had the power to manage the institutions, the governors rarely executed their power to interfere in the institution affairs. However, CY Leung uses his power in his capacity as Chancellor fully, and there is no check and balance. Dr Wong Pik-wan, another legislator as well as HKPTU’s exco member, also wondered if the students and teaching staff can really resist if CY Leung really executes his power of Chancellor to interfere in the school internal affairs. HKPTU will collect views from students and teachers about the review on the concerned ordinances.

Cases of institutions abroad

To safeguard the academic freedom, we should first protect the autonomy of academic institutions and protect the institutions from political interference. With reference to the experience of the developed countries, we found that their governments have nothing to meddle with the school affairs. Moreover, the councils are not appointed by the government officials. The following table provides some examples.

Even for some institutions in which some council members are appointed by the government, many of them are first nominated internally by the institutions. The council members are in law appointed by the officials, who in practice do not interfere in the selection processes. This can be better elaborated with reference to the Australia National University Act 1991. The law stated that the Council is empowered to appoint the chancellor, who will then form a nomination committee to submit nominations of Council members to the Minister of Education. The Minister however is not empowered to make the selection himself/herself.

Currently the Chief Executive is empowered to appoint council members of 10 higher education institutions. In general, more than 30% and even more than half of the seats in four institutions are currently under the Chief Executive’s control. Recently it was reported that CY Leung had interfered in the universities’ business. This shows that the existing law is not the enough to safeguard the academic freedom and autonomy. To re-establish our confidence towards the academic freedom, we need to learn from other countries how to minimize political interference in institutions. We invite you to give us your views on how we can amend the law to make our univiersities better and more protected.