Hong Kong University Concerned Over Effect of National Security Law on Academic Freedom

The University of Hong Kong (HKU) has proposed for a group to be set up to “protect academic freedom” in agreement with the National Security Law (NSL) provisions.

In a letter sent to senior faculty staff on March 18, the vice president for Teaching and Learning at HKU, Ian Holliday described how universities operating under the security law would affect academia, Erudera.com reports.

“Reaffirming HKU’s core commitment to academic freedom and institutional autonomy, this paper recommends that two mechanisms be created to ensure that, in the sphere of (teaching and learning), these values are safeguarded to the fullest extent possible within the framework of the NSL,” Holliday said.

According to the letter, HKU advises for a new committee to be established, which would select the vice president of teaching and learning as well as two associate deans from different departments. The same would also manage possible violations through professional and academic advice.

A senior university employee showed his pessimism on the new committee due to a lack of authority in comparison to National Security Law.

“It will be more difficult to attract international scholars in Hong Kong … people will be less vocal,” said the employee.

The letter by HKG came after the University Grants Committee (UGC), which monitors funding for eight universities in the city, asked them to adopt a “holistic approach” on the obligatory course on national security, based on the city’s mini constitution.

Under this security law, the government is required to extend supervision over universities. Beijing enforced this law on Hong Kong last June after anti-government and anti-China protests occurred and damaged the global financial center, with universities being most affected.

On the other hand, the Secretary for Education, Kevin Yeung, said that lawmakers have been meeting presidents of the universities during the last month and there are expected changes to be made to their curriculum.

“All schools must follow the law. We are currently discussing with [universities] what they have been doing under the legislation and whether it meets our expectations and requirements,” Yeung said at a Legislative Council meeting on March 5.

The Hong Kong University offers many programs, including architecture, arts, business and economics, dentistry, education, law, engineering, medicine, and social sciences. Programs that count the most students are business and economics (2,992), medicine (2,881), and engineering (2,563).

The University has received 11,329 student admissions for the 2019/2020 period, with 42.1 percent of them being international students. Around 30,629 enrolled at HKU in the same period, and the rate of international students reached 35.5 percentage points.

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