Hong Kong universities reopen for classes over the next few days with students facing heightened security and stricter access to campuses, weeks after radicals vandalised several buildings during anti-government protests.
All of the city’s eight publicly funded institutions told the Post students and staff would have to show or scan their university cards before being allowed onto campus, with security guards at entrances and patrolling sites across Hong Kong.
In November, protesters entered at least six universities, and blocked nearby roads, and vandalised buildings. Laboratories at three universities were broken into, with dangerous materials stolen and research projects affected.
Education minister Kevin Yeung Yun-hung later suggested universities needed to improve their management and consider restricting entry into campuses and dormitories.
Chinese University’s (CUHK) campus in Sha Tin suffered some of the worst damage, leaving it with a repair bill of some HK$70 million. The second semester begins on Monday, and the university said staff, students and alumni are required to present their university ID cards before entry.
Visitors would be required to register their personal information, or have a permit issued by the university before entering.
CUHK has also appointed a security consultant to review security measures at laboratory buildings, a spokeswoman said, adding security at student dormitories would also be constantly reviewed.
At Polytechnic University, which had it’s Hung Hom campus heavily damaged by protesters during a 13-day stand-off with police, students returning for the start of term on January 13 will find access strictly controlled.
Turnstiles have also been installed at the campus’ three main entrances, and university ID cards will be needed for entry, although questions have been raised over whether turnstiles installed at an entrance which leads to public open space could breach land grant conditions.
The conditions state that the land must be accessible to the public between 7am and midnight, and the Lands Department and university have said they are working to find a solution.
Having reopened in stages since mid-December, a spokeswoman for PolyU said an executive task force had been set up to “comprehensively review and enhance” safety and security measures on campus as well as in student hostels.
Owan Li, a Year Four student majoring in Social Policy and Administration, and student representative on the institution's governing council, did not believe the tightened security measures should be implemented for the whole of the term.
“One of the major values of universities is to be open and free,” he said. “But these security measures are just making PolyU isolating itself from the outside world and have been contradicting with [these values].”
City University students also start their new term next week, and the Kowloon Tong campus has also been surrounded by hoarding panels. Students and staff have to show relevant identification upon entry, while visitors need to preregister under the university’s electronic system and show a QR code to security guards for verification.
Fung Wai-wah, a senior lecturer and member of CityU’s council, believes the security measures are disproportionate and thinks there is a lower risk that campuses would be targeted by protesters again after two months.
“For security check at entrances, during rush hour a queue is usually formed and we have to wait to get in. A bottleneck may be formed when there are many people, and students might become late for classes even if they did originally arrive on time,” Fung said.
The Education Bureau said universities had a responsibility to implement suitable security measures, while balancing the impact on normal activities on campus.
It said the University Grants Committee, the funding body for the eight publicly funded universities in Hong Kong, had not imposed any mandatory regulations on campus access control or reopening arrangements, adding the bureau would continue to be in close contact with universities over campus facilities’ management.
Sometimes the most clever thing to say is nothing at all.