Body set up only weeks ago accused of trying to undermine universities' autonomy Legislators, educators and student representatives fear universities' autonomy will be further eroded by a new council set up under the University Grants Committee to monitor their quality. Democrat Cheung Man-kwong, the education constituency legislative councillor, accused the UGC of trying to interfere with the autonomy of institutes via the Quality Assurance Council, set up earlier this month. 'This is blatant interference with the ability of universities to assure their quality themselves,' he said. 'The Education and Manpower Bureau has long been trying to reduce the autonomy of universities through the UGC.' Civic Party member Fernando Cheung Chiu-hung, a lecturer at Hong Kong Polytechnic University and a member of its ruling council, said he was unaware of any consultation on the creation of the new body. He added there were adequate mechanisms in place to maintain the quality of universities. The UGC conducted Teaching and Learning Quality Process Reviews and the Research Assessment Exercise, while universities carried out appraisals and collected feedback from students on the performance of teachers. According to a document submitted to Legco, the Quality Assurance Council 'will assume a role in promoting quality enhancement and spreading good practices across the sector as it accumulates experience'. The council will assure that the quality of education is maintained at an 'internationally competitive level' and will 'encourage institutions to excel in this area of activities'. An audit approach will be adopted to review the quality of universities where institutions will write self-evaluation reports focusing on specific areas of institutional activity agreed with the council. Cheng Kai-ming, chair professor of education at the University of Hong Kong, said he was 'dubious' about the role of the new body. 'The best universities are not only thinking about quality. Quality assurance is about maintaining the threshold... It does not encourage innovation and excellence,' he said. Mervyn Cheung Man-ping, chairman of pressure group Hong Kong Education Policy Concern Organisation, said the council was redundant. He said he was concerned about the prospect of university staff having to handle an 'unnecessary burden' in meeting the demands from the council, such as the need to produce a large amount of documentation. Ross Ng Yin-ngai, spokesman for the Hong Kong Federation of Students, said the new council was a 'serious threat' to the autonomy of institutes and academic freedom. A spokeswoman for the UGC said the committee was 'very clear that institutions will remain responsible for the quality of their programmes', and that 'institutions must continue to be free to shape themselves in ways which fulfil their unique roles'.