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The main entrance to Lingnan University in Tuen Mun. Photo: K. Y. Cheng

Fifth Hong Kong university student union facing uncertain future, as school says it will no longer collect membership fees

  • Lingnan University issues statement on Thursday saying student-led organisation should take responsibility for its own money
  • Union calls reasons for doing so ‘far-fetched and absurd’ and fears move will lead to drop in numbers

The future of a fifth Hong Kong university student union was under threat on Thursday, after the institution it is associated with said it would stop collecting fees on its behalf.

Lingnan University previously collected HK$133 (US$17.12) per student as membership dues for the union as part of tuition payments taken at the start of the academic year. The nature of the billing made the union fees compulsory.

However, the university said following complaints from students, parents, and members of the public, it would stop the practice, and insist the organisation take responsibility for doing so.

In a statement, Lingnan said that as the union was considered to be an independent body under the city’s Societies Ordinance, “the university deems it more appropriate that the Lingnan University Student Union (LUSU) collects membership fees and manages their money on their own”.

Lingnan University has begun to distance itself from its student union. Photo: Winson Wong

The union called the school’s reasoning “far-fetched and absurd”, and pointed out it had been collecting membership fees for years.

“The sudden unilateral announcement to stop doing so is unconvincing and unacceptable,” it said.

According to a spokesman, the LUSU was concerned the move could lead to a drop in the number of members, would make collecting even “basic information” difficult, and may also affect its ability to hold elections.

The move came two days after the University of Hong Kong (HKU) said it no longer recognised its own student union, the oldest such group in the city.
Hong Kong’s leader, Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor, who is also the university’s chancellor, had demanded action be taken against the HKU student leaders who passed, and then withdrew, a motion “appreciating the sacrifice” of the man who stabbed a policeman before killing himself.
Hong Kong democracy activist Nathan Law was a student at Lingnan University. Photo: LaPresse
The city’s student unions are known to be vocal on social and political issues, and played an active role in the anti-government protests in 2019.

Prominent former opposition lawmaker, Nathan Law Kwun-chung, a Lingnan University alumnus and an ex-chairman of its student union representative council, is wanted on suspicion of breaking the national security law. He fled the city for London in June last year.

Separately, HKU also issued a letter on Wednesday telling its student union it must vacate its Composite Building offices on campus within seven days.

Undergrad, a student newspaper, said the university had also asked groups affiliated with the union who wanted to continue using the building to register with the official University Council.

Hong Kong university head suggests security law courses could be mandatory

Former city leader Leung Chun-ying took to social media to criticise student unions for their political activism.

Leung singled out earlier editions of the Undergrad, including articles such as, “The Hong Kong nation deciding its own fate” published in 2014, and “Hong Kong Nationalism” from 2013.

He believed they advocated that the city “look for a way out through self-reliance and self-determination”, implying it may contravene the Beijing-imposed national security law, which bans acts of secession, subversion, terrorism and collusion with foreign forces.

“A child who steals a needle will grow up to steal gold,” Leung said. “We need to care for the young. We cannot afford to underestimate the seriousness of the problem, tolerance will only cause more widespread harm.”

In March, newly elected student union leaders at the Chinese University of Hong Kong stepped down, citing political pressure from the university.

CUHK accused student union committee members of “exploiting” the campus for their political agenda in a statement issued at that time.

Across eight Hong Kong public universities, five have stopped collecting student union fees, namely Lingnan University, HKU, CUHK, Polytechnic University, and City University.