Public Eye

Vice-chancellor Peter Mathieson does not deserve Hong Kong

University of Hong Kong supremo is latest expatriate to quit a well-paying job, raising questions why we cannot hire our own talent

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 07 February, 2017, 4:06pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 08 February, 2017, 12:08am

Peter Mathieson doesn’t deserve Hong Kong. That’s what I say. Everyone is aghast that he’s prematurely quitting as University of Hong Kong vice-chancellor for a similar job at the University of Edinburgh. But so what? Our academic freedom thrived long before we ever heard of him and it’ll survive long after he’s gone.

His exact words in quitting were: “There are very few universities in the world that could have tempted me to leave HKU but Edinburgh is one of them.” Translation: HKU sucks compared to Edinburgh. That makes him an opportunist.

HKU hired him in 2014 from Bristol University at an inflated salary, which he jumped at. We need to wonder if he would have landed the Edinburgh job if he was still medicine and dentistry dean at Bristol. The prestige of HKU acted as a stepping stone.

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Mathieson said he would be taking a big pay cut but money is not the most important thing. Very noble. But the point is not that Edinburgh will pay him less. It’s why HKU paid him so much. He gets nearly HK$6 million a year, double what he’ll get at Edinburgh. If such extravagance sounds familiar, think of Jay Walder.

The MTR hired him in 2012 to run our railway at a bloated yearly salary of over HK$7 million, plus several million more in bonuses. It was far more than the HK$3 million he got as head of New York City’s subway system.

Walder naturally jumped at it. He screwed up so badly that the MTR let him go after just two years but still gave him a golden handshake of a year’s pay.

HKU vice-chancellor Peter Mathieson denies political pressure behind resignation

Similar extravagance was extended to expatriates who came and prematurely quit top jobs at the West Kowloon Cultural District. This is what we are – suckers who either can’t produce our own talent or have no faith in them. We pay top dollar to outsiders who either can’t handle the job or use us as a stepping stone.

Mathieson was treated by some as the great white hope against meddling in academic freedom by HKU Council chairman Arthur Li Kwok-cheung. It has been over a year since Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying named Li as chairman. I dare anyone to come forward with credible proof, not politically biased claims, that academic freedom at HKU has declined.