Hong Kong schools

PolyU president says he will retire next year, amid tensions on Hong Kong campuses over independence advocacy

Timothy Tong Wai-cheung will be fourth vice-chancellor at one of city’s eight government-funded universities to step down by end of 2018

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 28 September, 2017, 10:04am
UPDATED : Thursday, 28 September, 2017, 10:04am

Polytechnic University president Timothy Tong Wai-cheung has announced that he will retire next year when his term ends, bringing the number of Hong Kong public universities seeing a change in leadership up to four.

That means that from December 31 this year to the same day next year, half of the government-funded universities in the city will see their vice-chancellors step down, with Chinese University being the only school that has a successor named at this point.

The announcement comes at a time of turbulence for local universities as they struggle to contain a renewed independence movement on campuses, with the new school year having begun this month.

The various university managements and students have been at odds over whether separatism-themed materials should be allowed to be put up on campuses, especially in areas managed by student unions, following a number of recent cases where pro-independence banners and posters appeared at tertiary institutions.

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In an email sent to staff and students on Tuesday, Tong, 64, said he would step down when his term ended at the end of next year.

A university spokeswoman said on Wednesday that the university’s governing council would soon begin a global search to identify a suitable candidate for the post.

“Over the past nine years, President Tong has made significant contributions to the university, translating our vision for education and research into reality,” she said. “We will ensure a smooth transition for the benefit of the university.”

Tong took office in January 2009 and was reappointed for a second term, which commenced in January 2014.

Before his current appointment, Tong was the dean of the school of engineering and applied science at The George Washington University in the United States.

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Born and raised in Hong Kong, Tong received his bachelor’s degree in Mechanical Engineering from Oregon State University in 1976, and his master’s degree and PhD in the same discipline from the University of California at Berkeley in 1978 and 1980 respectively.

His announcement came at a sensitive time for the institution as management and students disagreed on their approaches to practising freedom of speech.

University staff drew the fury of students after taking down independence-themed posters from a “democracy wall” managed by students without first consulting them. The university had said it did not support independence, adding that the move was meant to protect students.

Chinese University vice-chancellor Professor Joseph Sung Jao-yiu said in 2016 that he would have a shorter second term and leave by mid-2018. Professor Peter Mathieson and Professor Tony Chan Fan-cheong both announced earlier this year that they would depart from the University of Hong Kong and the University of Science and Technology a year earlier.