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LCQ3: Appointment of the Chairmen and members of the supreme governing bodies of tertiary institutions

     Following is a question by the Dr Hon Kwok Ka-ki and a reply by the Secretary for Education, Mr Eddie Ng Hak-kim, in the Legislative Council today (November 25):

     Under the relevant legislation, the Chief Executive may, in his capacity as the Chancellor of the various publicly-funded tertiary institutions, appoint the chairmen and some of the members of the supreme governing bodies (i.e. the Council) of these institutions. The term of office of the immediate past Chairman of the Council of the University of Hong Kong (HKU Council) ended on the 6th of this month, but the authorities have not yet announced the successor as of the middle of this month. In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:

(1) of the factors to be taken into account by the Chancellor under the existing system in appointing the Chairman and members of the HKU Council, and whether such factors include the candidate's stance on safeguarding university autonomy and academic freedom, his familiarity with the affairs of the university, the political stance he has taken and his relationship with the Central Authorities; if so, of the details; if not, the reasons for that;

(2) of the specific reasons for the Chancellor not announcing the successor before the departure from office of the immediate past Chairman of the HKU Council; whether such reasons include the opposition from the public and the teaching staff and students of the university to a particular candidate; whether the office of the Chairman of the HKU Council has previously been left vacant in the past because the Chancellor had yet to make any appointment; whether the authorities have assessed the impact on the operation of the university caused by such office being left vacant; if they have, of the details; and

(3) whether the Chancellor, prior to appointing the chairmen and members of the supreme governing bodies of the various institutions, is required under the existing system to fully consult the teaching staff and students of the respective institutions as well as the public; if not, of the reasons for that; if so, the details, and when an appointment is being extensively questioned, whether the Chancellor is required to withdraw his decision to make such an appointment and conduct afresh another consultation on the appointment; if not, of the reasons for that?



     The Government makes appointments to statutory bodies on the basis of the merit of individuals concerned, taking into account a candidate's ability, expertise, experience, integrity and commitment to public service and with due regard to the statutory provisions of statutory bodies, functions and nature of business of the bodies concerned.

     Regarding the Dr Hon Kwok Ka-ki's question, our reply is as follows:

(1) and (3) The eight University Grants Committee (UGC)-funded institutions are all independent autonomous statutory bodies. They have their own Councils, serving as their supreme governing bodies. The respective ordinances and statutes of the eight UGC-funded institutions provide for the composition of their Councils, which consist of a certain number of members appointed by the Government or the Chancellor. Due to historical reasons as well as differences in terms of governance philosophy, religion, culture and circumstances of individual institutions, the legal provisions for the eight UGC-funded institutions, including the provisions setting out the composition of the Councils, do vary. Taking The University of Hong Kong (HKU) as an example, its Council consists of 24 persons, including seven (Chairman and six members) or 29.2 per cent appointed by the Chancellor. The remaining 17 members include members appointed by the Council itself, the Vice-Chancellor, representatives of teaching staff and students, etc.

     Regarding Council members appointed by the Government or the Chancellor, all along, appointments are made on a merit basis according to the abovementioned principle, taking into consideration the operation of institutions and the needs of higher education development of Hong Kong, with a view to appointing suitable candidates as Council members in accordance with the respective ordinances of the institutions.

     Except ex-officio members, all Council members, including those appointed by the Government or the Chancellor, serve in their personal capacity. Members appointed by the Government or the Chancellor are prominent in their fields and eminent community leaders, who serve on a voluntary basis in an effort to contribute to the community. All Council members are expected to perform their duties under the law and act in the best long-term interests of the university, as well as safeguard academic freedom and institutional autonomy.

     That said, as stated in the UGC Notes on Procedures, while institutions enjoy academic freedom and institutional autonomy, this does not exempt institutions from public interests and criticism. In fact, in view of the significant funding the institutions receive in the form of Government subvention, as well as the importance of higher education to the overall development of society, it is incumbent upon the Government and the community at large to have a legitimate interest in the operation of the institutions. Therefore, while remaining committed to safeguarding the academic freedom and institutional autonomy, the Council, as the supreme governing body of the institution, also has a responsibility to ensure transparency and accountability in the operation of the institution, with due regard to good governance, to secure that funding is put to appropriate uses that serve the best interests of the community and students.

(2) Regarding appointments to the HKU Council, the decision, when made, will be announced at an appropriate time. In fact, relevant provisions of the Statutes of The University of Hong Kong Ordinance (Cap. 1053) stipulate that the Council may still exercise its powers notwithstanding a vacancy in the body.  To our understanding, at its meeting held on November 12, the HKU Council discussed various arrangements while the office of the Council Chairman was left vacant, including the election of a chairman among the Council members themselves to act at the meeting and the election of a spokesperson for the Council. In fact, apart from members appointed by the Chancellor, a seat under another membership category of the HKU Council is also vacant for the time being. Besides, there have been similar cases with other universities where the office of Council Chairman was left vacant temporarily for various reasons.

Ends/Wednesday, November 25, 2015
Issued at HKT 14:41


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