Mainland China trips for students won't be compulsory in future, pledges HKU chief Peter Mathieson

Mathieson issues pledge in wake of storm over proposed student scheme

PUBLISHED : Friday, 24 April, 2015, 3:51am
UPDATED : Friday, 24 April, 2015, 3:51am

The University of Hong Kong's vice-chancellor has pledged that mainland trips will not be compulsory for future students, a step back from his earlier remarks that they would need to justify exemptions from such trips.

Professor Peter Mathieson had earlier told the South China Morning Post that "exemptions will be possible where justified", when asked about the plan to launch a campus-wide scheme requiring students to attend one mainland and one overseas "learning experience" from 2022.

Many students questioned the need for compulsory trips and mainland exposure being thrust upon them. The university clarified that no details had been set out and students would be consulted.

In a statement by Mathieson, read out yesterday in an open forum by Professor Ian Holliday, HKU's pro-vice-chancellor, he said: "We have no intention of forcing students to do something they don't want to do."

Asked by students whether the latest remarks contradicted Mathieson's point about exemptions in the Post interview, Holliday said the vice-chancellor was referring to existing programmes which required students to take part in overseas studies, including architecture and Chinese medicine.

That was not something mentioned in Mathieson's email to the Post, nor raised by the Post in its questions, which dealt only with the 2022 proposal.

Mathieson's statement also said that in the academic development plan endorsed by the university's senate and submitted to the University Grants Committee, HKU had made a commitment to open up sufficient opportunities for all undergraduates to engage in one mainland experience by 2022.

"There is no stipulation that learning experiences in China and overseas will be compulsory or become part of the graduation requirement for all undergraduates," Mathieson said.

At the same time he said HKU was "determined" to offer students "an expanding range of quality learning opportunities beyond Hong Kong", which in the end will benefit students.

Billy Fung Jing-en, president of the university student union, urged HKU to clarify its stance as there were already programmes which had compulsory overseas or mainland study requirements. He questioned whether Mathieson's latest remarks applied also to these programmes.

Holliday's forum was organised in response to the furore he aroused when he said last week: "If you don't want to go to mainland China, don't go to HKU." He has since retracted the statement and apologised for it.

The forum was attended by dozens of students, staff and alumni. Most were critical of the original scheme, with some saying it would waste money.