Education Bureau's response to Chris Patten's article

     On February 22, Lord Patten published an article entitled "The Closing of the Academic Mind" on Project Syndicate's website, in which he mentioned the head of the Hong Kong Government being the Chancellor of all government-funded universities. Upon receiving media enquiries, a spokesperson for the Education Bureau of the Government of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (HKSAR) gave the following response today (February 24):

     During his tenure as Governor of Hong Kong, Lord Patten, in consultation with the Executive Council, approved to grant university status to three institutions, namely the City Polytechnic, Baptist College and the Polytechnic in 1994. At the same time he also reaffirmed the statutory mechanism for the Governor to be the Chancellor of all government-funded universities in Hong Kong, and this mechanism was enshrined through legislation. Throughout the remainder of his term, Lord Patten had not revised this mechanism or the relevant legislation. Neither was the mechanism and legislation abolished at the time of Hong Kong's return to China. Therefore, the current practice of the Chief Executive being the Chancellor of the government-funded universities precisely stems from the then Governor Patten's decision. In putting forward his arguments in an article after an interval of more than 20 years, Lord Patten was acting in complete ignorance of the facts.

     Lord Patten claimed that "the rationale seems to be that, because students strongly supported the pro-democracy protests in 2014, the universities where they study should be brought to heel. So the city's government blunders away, stirring up trouble, clearly on the orders of the government in Beijing." Such a claim is totally groundless and a sheer fabrication and the HKSAR Government expresses deep regret.

     Regarding academic freedom and institutional autonomy, we note that the President and Vice-Chancellor of the University of Hong Kong, Professor Peter Mathieson, also talked about this subject in his speech delivered on December 17, 2015. An excerpt of the speech is produced below:

     "I want to finish by saying something about academic freedom and institutional autonomy. These two terms are often confused or used interchangeably and they should not be, because they are different. Academic freedom is the critical underpinning of university life: the freedom to study, research, read, write and/or talk about whatever subjects that we find most interesting, stimulating or important, no matter how controversial they might be or how the findings may challenge dogmas or official viewpoints. In my opinion, academic freedom is alive and well at (the University of Hong Kong). We do not however have complete institutional autonomy and nor can we expect it. We are a publicly funded institution and it is entirely appropriate that we are responsible to the public, and hence to the government that represents them, to assess, justify and adjust our activities according to societal impact and need. Publicly funded institutions all over the world have similar responsibilities. Look at recent events in universities in the UK, the US, Canada and Japan or schools in Korea: none of them have complete institutional autonomy, so no one in Hong Kong should think that this issue is purely a local matter."

    The HKSAR Government reiterates that academic freedom is an important social value treasured by Hong Kong and safeguarded by the Basic Law. It is also a cornerstone of the success of the higher education sector. The HKSAR Government attaches great importance to upholding academic freedom and institutional autonomy. The eight University Grants Committee (UGC)-funded institutions are all independent and autonomous statutory bodies. They have their own governing ordinances and statutes which set out their objectives, functions and governance structures. The legislation provides the institutions with the power and freedom to carry out their objectives and functions.

    In fact, the roles of the UGC, the Government and the institutions in the higher education sector are clearly defined in the UGC Notes on Procedures, which sets out five major areas of institutional autonomy, namely selection of staff, selection of students, curricula and academic standards, acceptance of research programmes, and allocation of funds within the institution.

Ends/Wednesday, February 24, 2016
Issued at HKT 19:59