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Student anger as Hong Kong Baptist University opts to keep rule that stops them graduating unless they pass Mandarin exam

Baptist University senate recommends it keep graduation requirement that caused eight-hour stand-off after 70 per cent failed course earlier this year

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 27 June, 2018, 10:09pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 27 June, 2018, 10:49pm

Baptist University will retain its unpopular requirement for students to pass a Mandarin module to graduate, its highest authority on academic matters decided on Wednesday, more than five months after 30 students stormed a language centre in protest.

But the university’s student union rejected the senate’s decision, calling it a move to “dilute the controversy” without addressing the views of students.

The graduation requirement has been in place since 2007. Students can take a three-part Mandarin course or to be exempted from it, they must pass a proficiency test by its language centre or attain a certain grade in an exam by China’s state language regulator.

In January, about 30 students staged an eight-hour stand-off in the language centre after results showed 70 per cent of those who took its test failed.

They criticised the marking scheme as not being transparent and railed against the requirement, with student union president Lau Tsz-kei caught on video hurling vulgarities at a staff member. Lau and another student were temporarily suspended from classes for violating the school’s code of conduct.

Promising to review the requirement, the senate, made up of senior university management, academics and students, set up two working groups and tasked them to make recommendations on the grading method of the Mandarin course and whether the requirement should stay.

According to students who attended Wednesday’s senate meeting, both groups recommended keeping the requirement. They also submitted reports with recommendations that were approved by the senate.

Here’s why Baptist University students are so against the mandatory Mandarin course

Ken Lui Lok-hei, acting president of the student’s union, said his experience in the two working groups was “unpleasant” and “a waste of time”. School leaders in the groups did not listen to students’ arguments in favour of dropping the requirement, he said.

“It stunned me that during one meeting, a member of a working group said if students didn’t want to learn Mandarin, they should just quit from the university,” Lui said, declining to disclose the person’s identity.

One of the two reports recommended allowing students to choose if they would like to have the Mandarin course results included in their accumulative grade point average – an integrated score affecting students’ ability to get an honours award.

Those opting for exclusion would be allocated to courses where the numerical scoring system would be replaced with a three-tier grading system, of fail, pass and distinction.

It also told the university to refund a HK$980 test fee to students who sat for the national proficiency test after finishing the university’s preparation course, regardless of their exam results.

Students who did not take the preparation course but managed to pass the national test with third class upper grade or above would also enjoy the reimbursement, the report said.

Lui said neither of the two reports, which were not available to the media, evaluated the language centre’s proficiency test.

“What the university’s management has been doing with the working groups and their reports is simply dragging things out to dilute the controversy,” Lui said, adding the union would discuss the matter with other student groups before pursuing further action.

Baptist University students’ new suspensions called a warning to those opposing school policies

A spokeswoman for Baptist University said the decision to retain the requirement on Mandarin proficiency resulted from “a thorough discussion” and the review on the proficiency test was still under way.

“It is expected that a proposal will be ready for the Senate’s deliberation and approval in September,” the spokeswoman said.