Hong Kong’s education minister has said universities need to improve their management and consider restricting entry following the occupation of campuses by protesters over the past few weeks, while admitting that he is ultimately responsible for the sector.
Secretary for Education Kevin Yeung Yun-hung made the comments on Saturday, a day after police ended a 13-day siege of Polytechnic University, which had been occupied by more than 1,000 protesters, including radicals who had thrown petrol bombs at officers and barricaded nearby roads a fortnight ago.
The government also defended its decision to withdraw funding proposals of HK$2 billion (US$256.4 million) for three universities, with the chief secretary, the city’s No 2 official, dismissing claims the act was punishment for the higher education sector because many students had taken part in the protests.
Police revealed more than 10,000 petrol bombs had been found at several universities over the past few weeks and 810 people had been arrested during the siege at PolyU, while another 318 people aged under 18 had their information recorded since the beginning of the lockdown on the campus on November 17.
The university in Hung Hom suffered such severe damage its president Teng Jin-guang estimated repairs would take half a year and costs would be substantial.
Yeung said universities should think about how they could improve their daily operations and management, including installing security measures.
“Some universities have implemented access control … that is different from when most campuses were open. Universities should perhaps think about how to find a balance,” he said.
“Some universities’ dormitories are relatively open where students can bring guests. But now we can see a problem here as some people with unknown identities have entered [the dormitories]. Should universities think about increasing security arrangements?”
But Fung Wai-wah, a senior lecturer at City University and a member of the institution’s governing council, said it was difficult to keep stringent security arrangements for a long period as it would be inappropriate to “seal off” campuses completely.
“Freedom and transparency should be values that higher education institutions embrace and ‘outsiders’ should not be rejected,” he said, adding that once restoration work had been completed campuses should be reopened to the public.
Lawmaker Abraham Razack, a member of the University of Hong Kong’s council, said it was important to forge mutual trust.
“Each university has its own regulations and by-laws … the most important thing is that academic freedom is well preserved and that the environment is suitable for learning, instead of turning [the university] into a prison or fortress,” he said.
Of the 1,100 people who were inside PolyU, only 46 were students of the university.
Yeung said although university presidents were “primarily responsible” for daily operations and management of their campuses, he was the one with whom ultimate responsibility lay for whatever happened in the sector.
“No matter if the issues are related to universities, secondary or primary schools or even kindergartens, if problems arise … I have to hold the ultimate responsibility,” he said.
Yeung said research and teaching had been disrupted at many universities, while an exodus of international and mainland students, and the reluctance of teachers from abroad to come to Hong Kong, would affect the city’s higher education sector.
Yeung also defended the government’s decision to withdraw funding proposals of HK$2 billion for three universities, which included an expansion plan for library facilities at PolyU.
“The crisis at PolyU had not been resolved then. It was not clear whether there would be structural damage to the library. So we decided to postpone the plan after discussing the matter with the university,” he said.
Yeung added that the plan would be submitted again to the Legislative Council after PolyU reviewed and assessed the condition of its library.
Chief Secretary Matthew Cheung Kin-chung said he hoped the end of the PolyU incident would mark the resumption of peace in the city.
Cheung, who was speaking on the sidelines of a public event, denied the withdrawal of the funding proposals was a punishment for the sector.
“We hope to raise the chances of proposals being approved under better communication [with lawmakers].”
Health minister Sophia Chan Siu-chee, who was at the same event, said some lawmakers and parties had expressed concerns over the security of facilities in universities. Chan said she hoped the funding proposals could be resubmitted within this legislative year, which ends next July.
At Legco’s Finance Committee meeting on Friday, lawmaker Ann Chiang Lai-wan of pro-establishment party the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong voiced concerns over the funding proposals.
Criticising the pan-democrats for “provoking students” to join protests, she said: “Don’t you feel sorry to request funding for constructing beautiful buildings nowadays? All were vandalised!”
She said the government should subsidise school fees for students instead of improving the university buildings amid the expected economic downturn.
That post exemplifies the root of the problem - a historical legacy of centuries of propaganda based on the premise of European racial supremacy. It portrays the white colonial master that is the savior to the ever thankful poor black slave. Thank God, I’m an emancipated African - and I don’t worship at the feet of white gods - the Queen or the Governor, who are simply relics of outmoded colonialism built on the tenets of racist institutions of white supremacy that colonized and enslaved Africans for centuries.
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