Strip Hong Kong chief executive of university powers, outside panel recommends

Report, which recommends making the city leader’s automatic role an honorary one, to be discussed on Tuesday

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 23 February, 2017, 11:29am
UPDATED : Thursday, 23 February, 2017, 9:40pm

The panel tasked with reviewing how the University of Hong Kong is run has recommended stripping the city’s leader of powers he or she currently enjoys, of appointing top council chairs and its members, according to a source.

Citing a report circulated to the university’s governing council on Tuesday, the source said the panel suggested the role of chancellor – which Leung Chun-ying currently holds by default, as Hong Kong chief executive – be made honorary.

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That would mean the chief executive would not be able to appoint the council’s chair and members, or confer honorary degrees, said the source, who requested anonymity to share the information. Those responsibilities would fall to the council.

William Cheung Sing-wai, chairman of the HKU Academic Staff Association, said that it was “a good start”.

“At least we will not have direct political interference,” he said.

But he pointed out that the chief executive could still exercise power, with many current council members pro-Leung.

“The current chairman and six members are appointed by the chief executive. Six more are appointed by the council, which is essentially chairman Arthur Li Kwok-cheung’s decision,” he said. Li is widely regarded as a strong ally of Leung’s.

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Cheung also expressed concern the recommendations would not be accepted.

“Whether or not these suggestions will be implemented also depends who becomes our next chief executive,” he said.

HKU established the independent review panel in April last year amid intensifying debate over public universities’ governance structures.

Critics have argued that a politically conservative chief executive could use the system and his or her influence over the universities’ councils to stifle liberal views and threaten academic freedom.

The panel consisted of Professor Sir Malcolm Grant, chancellor of the University of York; Professor William Kirby, T.M. Chang Professor of China Studies at Harvard University; and Peter Van-tu Nguyen, a former High Court judge.

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The review report was expected to be completed by the end of 2016 but was only submitted to council this week.The council will discuss it at its meeting next Tuesday.

Even if the council accepts the recommendations, such changes would need to be passed by the HKU court, the chancellor and the Legislative Council.