Universities in Hong Kong

Respect between Hong Kong university students and teachers? Ex-head of Lingnan says rankings fixation ended this

Edward Chen recalls the days where a more harmonious relationship existed on campuses because there was less pressure

PUBLISHED : Monday, 27 November, 2017, 10:03am
UPDATED : Monday, 27 November, 2017, 10:03am

An obsession with global rankings among Hong Kong universities could harm teacher-student relations, an educator has warned.

Edward Chen Kwan-yiu, 72, the first head of Lingnan University in 1997, said the fixation with rankings had also spread to the government, resulting in public money being needlessly spent on analysing the city’s performance.

Speaking at a reunion organised by his former students to discuss “respect for teachers” last Thursday, Chen said: “Over the past two decades, the worst trend in tertiary education is the emergence of ranking agencies, which has greatly stifled university education.”

Former financial secretary Antony Leung Kam-chung and MTR Corporation chairman Frederick Ma Si-hang, both former students of Chen, were at the event.

Lingnan University was upgraded from its college status in 1997. Chen became its first chief and retired in 2007. One of his most notable achievements was the creation of a liberal arts educational community unique to Hong Kong at the time.

Recalling his earlier days teaching at the University of Hong Kong from the 1970s to the mid-1990s, Chen said the relationship between teachers and students was closer and more respectful than what he had observed in recent years.

Five Hong Kong universities achieve best rankings in recent years on world list

He attributed the harmony to the lower student intake and fewer distractions for teachers.

Chen cited the early 1970s, when he granted permission to Antony Leung – then his student – to skip classes for a campus demonstration over the Diaoyu Islands, the centre of a sovereignty dispute between mainland China, Taiwan and Japan.

“Today’s students may just skip classes without any notice,” Chen said.

Ma, who was also involved in the protest, said that Leung’s deference to Chen was “no longer a tune sung by students today”. He added that such respect should be reintroduced and cultivated in universities.

“The relationship between teachers and students is based on mutual trust. If students are expected to respect their teachers, teachers should also spend more time on caring for students,” Chen said.

Chen recalled a more intimate setting back in the day, where small group tutorials were organised by lecturers like himself, instead of being delegated to teaching assistants, which is the practice now.

“The current pressure to publish papers and contribute to a university’s rankings affects teachers ... because more time is needed on research instead of teaching,” Chen said.

He added that this obsession with rankings among universities had spread to the government.

Chen, who was a member of the Executive Council under the last colonial governor Chris Patten, said he heard that the administration in recent years had paid high-level officials “millions of dollars annually” to monitor the city’s placements in global rankings of competitiveness.

“The government may not be wrong to keep an eye on its rankings and monitor its performance. But we must think twice if this wastes public resources,” Chen warned, adding that the mechanism behind such rankings had become “too technical for the general public to understand”.

Ma, who is also council chairman of Education University, said universities should strike a balance on the issue.

“Without good rankings, it will be difficult for them to raise funds and attract students,” he said.