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Friday, Oct 30, 2020

Hong Kong universities help create jobs for students amid double whammy of protests and pandemic

Chinese University has set up a relief fund for students, with president Rocky Tuan hoping it will enhance students’ employment outlook. His counterpart from Baptist University, Roland Chin, says its alumni have offered hundreds of work opportunities to students

The Chinese University of Hong Kong has set up a relief fund to create hundreds of jobs for students as part of its plans to mitigate the impact of the anti-government protests and the Covid-19 pandemic, as its head told the Post that donations to universities were expected to decline.

At the Post’s annual China Conference on Friday, Chinese University vice-chancellor and president Rocky Tuan said he hoped the fund would enhance students’ employment outlook during the current tough times.

On the same panel discussion, Baptist University president Roland Chin Tai-hong said its alumni had offered hundreds of part-time jobs and internships to students, amid fears the unemployment rate among young adults would soon hit double digits.

“We will create part-time jobs for them on campus and provide hands-on training with payment,” Tuan said, adding that the jobs would range from helping out in laboratories and putting curriculums together to campus planning or surveying.

Short-term jobs at the university would also be offered to graduating students, while discussions are ongoing with various organisations to create external employment opportunities.

Tuan said he and seven pro-vice-chancellors would donate 15 per cent of their salaries for the remaining months of this year to seed the relief fund, with further donations expected from alumni.

The varsity’s last annual yearbook mentions Tuan’s yearly salary as HK$6 million.

Since the protests erupted in June last year, various universities, especially Chinese University in Ma On Shan and Polytechnic University in Hung Hom, have become battlefields between protesters and police. This year, the coronavirus pandemic has postponed the dates of the resumption of face-to-face classes.

Tuan admitted that raising money was a challenging task.

“We did experience some hardships in raising funds,” he said. But he explained that the numbers were a bit tricky under the government’s matching grants scheme, in which grants worth HK$3 billion were earmarked for eight universities for three years from August last year.

He said some universities had used the donations to receive matching grants from the government, resulting in the total amount going up by almost 2½ times from the previous year.

Chin said he was surprised to see an increase in donations last year.

Tuan said online classes held for students since the beginning of the pandemic had more than 3 million views, with about 2,500 sessions being held online every day.

“It [the pandemic] hit us really hard, sudden, fast and furious, and I think my colleagues basically taught themselves how to face it,” he said.

As the pandemic has brought the university’s exchange programmes to a halt, Tuan said they had decided to initiate “very attractive and rewarding” virtual exchange programmes by partnering with overseas universities. The virtual exchange programmes are likely to be announced in a month or so.

Chin also said the pandemic and the US-China trade war had forced the higher education sector to rethink its digital and internationalisation strategy.

“China is withdrawing from a lot of joint programmes with the West … should we focus more on the Asean countries, the African continent, or South America? We need to do this post-pandemic rethinking,” Chin said.

Chinese University has spent HK$45 million to restore facilities that had been damaged during protests in November last year, while Baptist University spent HK$2 million.

However, both Tuan and Chin said the most difficult part was to rebuild mutual trust among everyone.

“Ultimately, the lesson to be learned from all the unrest is that we must [build trust] very seriously and must do it in solidarity, with commitment, and with openness,” Tuan said.

Meanwhile, Carlson Tong Ka-shing, chairman of the University Grants Committee, speaking in a separate interview with the media, said there was scope for the universities to apply for funding for long-term repairs.

But he said that the universities had been able to repair their campuses with their own resources.


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