A relatively small plot of land has recently become a site of contention between the government and Hong Kong Baptist University. The issue is symptomatic of problems in town planning, the land shortage in Hong Kong and the need for long-term vision with regard to higher education.
The government's proposal to rezone the southern portion (0.88 hectares) of the former Lee Wai Lee campus in Kowloon Tong from government, institution or community use to residential use triggered protests by university staff, students and alumni, who believe the land, surrounded on three sides by university buildings, is the only practical and logical site to meet its urgent needs.
It is both shortsighted and unreasonable to turn a site marked for educational purposes into a residential development. Putting commercial needs above educational needs when there is a conflict goes against past government policy, and such a move would hurt the future of a neighbouring university that sorely needs the space.
In the early 1980s, the government began upgrading the higher education sector to increase the territory's future competitiveness. After Baptist College gained university status in 1994, it was allotted the whole plot across Junction Road, though 5.4 hectares proved too small for the sustainable development of a university and is still the smallest site area among all the University Grants Committee-funded institutions.
Providing the necessary resources, including land, for the development of public universities has been a government responsibility. Even in the colonial era, the government had a tacit understanding to reserve adjacent sites for the University of Hong Kong whenever they became available.
This was truly far-sighted, given the value of land in the area. The government put the sustainable development of the university above commercial considerations.
After the handover, the government also named higher education as one of the pillars by which the city's development would be sustained. So it would be consistent with those policies, and the world trend of competing for high-quality human resources, for the whole Lee Wai Lee site to be allocated to Baptist University.
I am currently involved in the development of a new campus at the University of Macau, to replace the existing campus that is comparable in size to the Baptist site. The Macau government has spent the equivalent of HK$10 billion on the construction of a campus of more than 100 hectares on Hengqin Island.
Higher education should be regarded as a long-term investment and given space to grow. It is important to note that Baptist University is not asking for the site for expansion per se, but to meet the urgent need for student residential accommodation and to complete the development of its School of Chinese Medicine.
The proposal to build a Chinese medicine teaching hospital will fill a big hole in the advancement of Chinese medicine in Hong Kong. Baptist University's School of Chinese Medicine was the first and is now the largest in the city, but lacks a training hospital for interns.
Baptist University's request is not simply a desire to expand its operations beyond the existing government policy. The university needs the whole Lee Wai Lee site to function properly as a respected institution of higher learning worthy of the name of Hong Kong.
Dr Daniel Tse Chi-wai is president emeritus of Hong Kong Baptist University which he served from 1968 to 2001 and current chair of the University Council of the University of Macau