HKU chief’s resignation slammed as ‘unacceptable’ and premature amid concerns over institute’s future

Ex-student leader questions Mathieson decision so soon after ‘10-year vision’ was unveiled

PUBLISHED : Friday, 03 February, 2017, 12:03pm
UPDATED : Friday, 03 February, 2017, 11:10pm

A former University of Hong Kong student union leader said vice-chancellor Peter Mathieson’s sudden resignation was unacceptable as concerns were expressed yesterday about the future of the city’s premier higher learning institute.

Billy Fung Jing-en said he was shocked and disappointed by ­Mathieson’s decision as the ­university had established a new “10-year vision” only last year, with the aim of becoming “Asia’s global university”.

He accused Mathieson of ­already harbouring an intention to quit while drafting the vision.

“The vision was established only a few months ago and I was hoping that he could exercise the idea with action,” Fung said on a radio show. “For someone who drafted this to suddenly leave … This is unacceptable.”

The university laid out its vision for 2016 to 2025 last August. One of the goals included giving opportunities to 50 per cent of its undergraduates to study outside of Hong Kong by 2019, and to extend this to all students by 2022.

The institute also aimed to focus on “internationalisation”, “innovation” and “interdisciplinarity” work.

Fung said the procedure of hiring a new vice-chancellor – from headhunting to selection and appointment – took six months to one year. He questioned if Mathieson had been looking for a new job since early or mid-2016.

“The idea to leave did not just occur to him. He was probably ­already eyeing the [Edinburgh] job when he was drafting the 10-year vision,” Fung said.

Mathieson shocked academic and political circles on Thursday by announcing his resignation to take the helm at Edinburgh ­University in Scotland.

HKU academic staff association chairman Dr William Cheung Sing-wai also expressed worries over the future of the school, especially when the premature departure came ahead of a review over its governance structure.

The review by an independent expert panel is expected to study whether the city’s chief executive should automatically be the institution’s chancellor.

“Since Mathieson has ­tendered his resignation, I do not feel that he will continue to fight hard for the interests of HKU in his remaining term,” Cheung said.

Cheung and Fung both felt the university could face difficulties in finding a new leader if Mathieson quit over political pressure.

I do not feel that he will continue to fight hard for the interests of HKU in his remaining term
Dr William Cheung, HKU staff

Lawmaker Cheung Kwok-kwan, a member of the HKU court – an overseeing and legislative body comprising university and lay members – said Mathieson should finish his term.

“Otherwise there will be certain impacts on the development of the university,” Cheung added.

Mathieson will leave by January next year, two years before his contract expires.

Cheung said family reasons could be behind Mathieson’s decision to leave as his family members were all in Britain.

But he believed he should have anticipated such issues before moving here.

“He also handled many political issues and challenges. This could be beyond his expectation as a foreign academic,” he said.

The HKU Convocation Standing Committee expressed ­concern and said it hoped the next president would have the passion and commitment to continue the efforts of predecessors in upholding HKU’s core values and bringing it forward to scale new heights.

“For someone who drafted this to suddenly leave … This is unacceptable.”