HKU council controversy

Review of university governance a good foundation for reform

The University of Hong Kong appointment saga showed there is still room for discussion and improvement on the management of higher education institutions

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 09 April, 2016, 1:19am
UPDATED : Saturday, 09 April, 2016, 1:19am

The governance of universities has come under the public spotlight following the appointment row at the University of Hong Kong. Much has been said about how the structure should be reformed, but the debate was unfortunately overshadowed by finger-pointing between rival political camps. Now that emotions have somewhat subsided, it is perhaps time to revisit the issues in a rational manner. A good starting point is a study led by a top overseas expert on higher education.

Commissioned by the University Grants Committee long before the University of Hong Kong had made headlines last year, the review focused on a wide range of issues, including tapping the right talents for strategic development, establishing an accountability framework for periodic report as well as risk management. The recommendations were endorsed by the government last week.

Attention was inevitably drawn to the arrangement for the chief executive to hand pick members to the governing council. Although the report said the chief executive’s appointment power was not a focus, it did not shy away from discussing the potential consequences if an individual university could not draw upon the range of skills it needs. It suggested universities drawing up their own ‘skill templates’ for the members needed, but stopped short of saying whether the appointment power should be scrapped.

Equally worthy of concern is the feedback from stakeholders in a consultation exercise. For instance, individual council members have admitted that they do not feel comfortable to question proposals tabled for discussion during initial years.

With institutional autonomy comes public accountability. As reflected in the HKU saga, there is still room for discussion and improvement. Credit goes to the study for tackling a wide range of issues pivotal to maintaining good governance at higher education institutions. The review has provided a good foundation to further discuss the necessary reforms.