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Universities in Hong Kong

HKU’s reputation has been hurt by politics

A recent study suggests that the University of Hong Kong is no longer the city’s top tertiary institution, with politics undoubtedly playing a part in its slide down the rankings

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 16 January, 2018, 1:47am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 16 January, 2018, 1:47am

There is more to good universities than just history and fame. Yet perception and reputation can be defining when it comes to stature and recognition. The University of Hong Kong is a case in point. For more than a century, it has been the most revered tertiary institution among educators, students and employers. But increasingly, it is struggling to stay ahead.

If a recent study is any reference, HKU has lost out to the University of Science and Technology as the best local university again. In another blow, it slipped from the top to third in ratings by secondary school heads. For the second year, its graduates failed to make it to the top three recruitment choices for employers. But it keeps the crown in terms of resources and admission.

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That negative perception of the university continues to prevail is perhaps unsurprising. It has been embroiled in a series of political controversies over the past few years, including the Occupy protests, the pro-independence debate, the tussle over the would-be promotion of a liberal scholar and the recent replacement of the university chief.

Without further data, it is difficult to pick any specific incident to blame. But it would not be surprising if they all damaged the university’s reputation to varying degrees.

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Higher education is a competitiveness business. The city is privileged to have more than a handful of institutes to choose from, some of which are among the best in the region, if not the world. As elsewhere, talented people always pick the best place to further their studies or teaching careers. But if individual universities fail to attract the best as a result of repeated political wrangling, they are bound to lose out amid the keen competition.

Outgoing HKU chief says Beijing officials have met him ‘several times’ and wishes higher education ‘wasn’t so politicised’

Our increasingly charged political environment may well put our universities further to the test. But there is every reason for them to stand up to the pressure. It is not just in the interest of the universities, but also that of the city as a whole, to maintain an academic environment free from confrontation and interference.

With a new vice chancellor coming on board, it is to be hoped that the University of Hong Kong can soon move on and scale new heights.