Universities in Hong Kong

HKU loses ranking as ‘most favoured’ university by Hong Kong secondary school leaders

Ranking organisers say governance problems at the university may have contributed to a fall from the top spot

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 09 January, 2018, 9:36pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 09 January, 2018, 11:16pm

The University of Hong Kong is no longer top of the class when it comes to institutes of higher learning most favoured by secondary school heads, according to rankings released on Tuesday.

HKU has been on a steady tumble from the top spots on the poll, conducted by the educational website and Public Opinion Programme of HKU – despite being the leader on international polls.

The rankings’ organisers suggested governance problems, including the premature departure of its vice chancellor, Professor Peter Mathieson, led to the university losing favour with secondary school leaders.

HKU’s tumble coincided with Mathieson leaving for Edinburgh University after a truncated five-year term from April 2014 to the end of 2017 – a period when both the city and HKU were plagued with controversies ranging from politics to academic freedom.

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In a recent interview with the Post , Mathieson said his tenure was filled with “pressure from everybody” and advice from the Beijing liaison office “all the time”.

He also said his resignation was prompted in part by Arthur Li Kwok-cheung, a pro-establishment politician who also chairs HKU’s governing body. Li did not discuss the possibility of a second term with him despite his entering “the fourth year of a five-year contract”, Mathieson said., a website run by the private Hong Kong Institute of Technology, has produced a list of four rankings for local universities in cooperation with the Public Opinion Programme of HKU annually since 1998. Ten public and private universities were ranked in the latest poll.

The four rankings are: an “Education 18 ranking”, which measured admission quality, research performances, teacher-student ratio and size of library; a “popular ranking” based on a poll of 1,260 individuals in May by the Public Opinion Programme; a “comprehensive ranking” integrating findings of the previous two rankings; and a “professional ranking” based on a survey on 71 local secondary school heads.

In 2016, HKU lost its top “popular ranking” spot to the University of Science and Technology, dropping to third place for the first time in more than a decade. HKU remained in third in this poll.

In 2017, HKU lost its top position in “comprehensive ranking” and “professional ranking” to Chinese University, as it fell to second and third, respectively.

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The “comprehensive ranking” showed that HKU was behind Chinese University in terms of research performances, graduates’ performance and overall performances, according to the organisers.

The list showed secondary school heads had been losing their confidence in both universities over the past three years – with the overall rating of HKU dropping from 8.64 out of 10 in 2014 to 7.89 in 2017.

Yet from 2016 to 2017, the educators’ impression on Chinese University rebounded as the overall rating rose from 8.03 to 8.27.

Joseph Sung Jao-yiu, the former vice chancellor of Chinese University, was favoured more by the secondary school heads than Mathieson. Sung was given an average grade of 8.59 out of 10 in 2017, while Mathieson, who ranked the third, was graded 7.02 on average.

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Joy Shi Mei-chun, chief editor of, said governing problems disclosed in the past year and Mathieson’s leave were a major influence behind the downturn of secondary school heads’ impression on HKU although the educators were not directly asked about these in the survey.

“Though students were active in social movements when HKU lost its first place on the ‘general popularity’ ranking in 2016, the secondary school heads still favoured HKU most. However in the year prior to July 2017, while students continued their activism, more governing problems, such as the conflicts between the University Council and the students, and the departure of its vice chancellor took place, then we observed the loss of confidence among secondary school heads,” Shi said.

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She said the secondary school heads’ impression was important because it might influence the students’ decisions on where to attend university.

An HKU spokeswoman said the university would continue to strive to provide quality education as part of its work to achieve the aim of being Asia’s Global University. The spokeswoman did not address questions regarding the governing issues.