Disrespectful Hong Kong students a disgrace

Mak Kwok Wah is appalled by events at Lingnan and arts academy

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 16 July, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 16 July, 2013, 3:37am

A trait of Chinese parents everywhere is their determination to provide their children with the best education they can afford. But for the huge numbers of refugee families who poured across the border from China in the 1950s and 1960s, education for their sons and daughters was just a dream, crammed as they were into squalid squatter settlements dotting hillsides on either side of the harbour.

Eventually relief came in the shape of government-funded resettlement estates. Better still, they also fulfilled parents' dreams by providing makeshift schools for their children - built on the rooftops of the five- or six-storey resettlement blocks.

Lacking air-conditioning, they were hot and muggy in summer and desperately cold in winter. Primitive? Indeed - but both parents and children cherished them for the learning they provided.

And, in time, those squatter families, especially the children, provided the muscle, sweat and ingenuity that helped to create the Hong Kong success story. Prosperity enabled Hong Kong to modernise both its infrastructure and its educational facilities, such as new universities. But the catch about university education was that while many aspired to it, few could afford it.

So the government sensibly introduced a student loan scheme to ensure that no eligible student would be denied tertiary education.

Over the decades, the scheme has been extended to include non-means-tested loans, deferral of tuition fees, introduction of grants, student travel subsidies and even a system of appeals if loans are rejected.

Thanks to this scheme, tens of thousands of Hong Kong parents have been able to reach the pinnacle of their hopes for their sons or daughters, as they watch them receive their degree. That degree will be a passport to a successful career and a happy, prosperous life.

The reviews are in and their performance has been judged a complete and shameful disgrace

Now let us turn from this idyllic picture to the harsh realities of recent incidents involving some tertiary students. At Lingnan University, some of them insultingly refused to recognise their new president, Professor Leonard Cheng Kwok-hon, while at the Academy for Performing Arts, a brat pack wanting universal suffrage transformed its graduation ceremony into an outrageous charade, targeting Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying, who is the academy's president. The rudest insult came from one whippersnapper who gave three low bows to Leung, the ceremonial gesture accorded the dead.

Let us assume that most of those students received their tertiary education thanks to student loans funded by our taxes. Rather than treasuring this honour and privilege, they behaved like common louts, at a ceremony marking what should have been the proudest moment in their lives.

Thankfully, not all joined in. Also, it is to be hoped that offenders' parents told them they had brought shame and dishonour not only on themselves but their families, too.

Meanwhile, since the protest sprang from a burning local political issue, it might be thought that the protesters had studied political science and history, and had some foundation for their actions. Not so - they are budding actors, artists and the like. In a way, this is an odd choice because performing companies cannot survive without government subsidies.

Perhaps what we witnessed was the first "performance" by the Class of 2013? Well, the reviews are in and their performance has been judged a complete and shameful disgrace that will take many years for the participants to live down. The best advice we can give them is: grow up.

A final point - will there be a much-warranted humble apology, or is that, too, out of the question?

Mak Kwok Wah is a public affairs consultant