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Baptist University senate groups to review controversial Mandarin graduation requirement

Working group to be set up on the documentation of Mandarin graduation achievement and a second group on the review of communication graduation attributes

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 13 February, 2018, 8:02am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 13 February, 2018, 8:45am

Baptist University has set up two working groups under its senate to review whether a controversial Mandarin graduation requirement should be scrapped, with the student union calling the move a delaying tactic.

Student union president Lau Tsz-kei, who is also a member of the senate, announced the move on Monday after a senate meeting.

The working groups are expected to submit their reports by June. 

But Lau said he was disappointed that the school was delaying the decision with tensions boiling over on campus over the unpopular policy and how the school handled dissident voices.

Lau was among 30 students who stormed the school’s language centre about a month ago, demanding the university end the requirement, introduced in 2007, for local undergraduates to pass a Mandarin module to graduate.

With no such requirement for most universities in Hong Kong, many Baptist University undergraduates say they should be free to choose what courses to take, especially with Mandarin already taught in primary and secondary schools.

They were also demanding greater transparency for a test that exempts students from the course after 70 per cent of those who took the exam failed.

During the stand-off, Lau was filmed using foul language, but no one resorted to physical violence.

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A week after the fracas in the language centre, the school launched investigations into Lau and three other students and suspended him and another individual before the probe was over citing safety concerns. But after widespread criticism, the school lifted the suspensions a week later, after the two apologised to language centre staff in person. 

The senate decided Monday that a working group would be set up on the documentation of Mandarin graduation achievement and a second group on the review of communication graduation attributes.

Lau said after a senate meeting on Monday that the former was intended to look at how to assess students’ Mandarin abilities if there were no graduation requirement and the latter would review whether basic Mandarin proficiency was needed for Baptist University graduates.

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The first meeting of the second working group will be held on Tuesday, while the first working group will meet for the first time on February 22. The two groups will submit their reports in June before the matter is discussed in senate.

Lau said there are two student representatives in each working group, including himself, with slightly more staff in the groups, including those who support the Mandarin requirement and those who do not. He said the second group would have 10 members, but he did not know the number for the first.

“I feel so helpless. The school is delaying the decision, which should have been done 18 months ago when a task force to review the university’s language policy was set up,” he said. The task force was set up after a referendum held two years ago found that about 90 per cent of students wanted the Mandarin requirement to be scrapped. 

“We already have documents with employers’, students’ and staff’s opinions, but they said they needed more time.”

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Lau also revealed that a committee member said that it would not be a good time to make such a decision with tensions boiling over on campus over the language saga. 

The student union president also said he believed that the setting up of the two groups was a result of the stand-off last month.

A university spokesman said the university would follow the best interests of students.