Compulsory mainland study for HKU students

By staff reporter, additional reporting by John Kang

HKU plans for a policy under which students have to study on the mainland for part of their degree have sparked controversy

By staff reporter, additional reporting by John Kang |

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Ian Holliday (man in blue top in the middle) and social workers from HKU bring psychosocial therapies and expressive art therapies to school children in Sichuan in 2010.

University of Hong Kong (HKU) plans to have a policy under which its undergraduates have to spend time on the mainland as part of their degree.

The policy, to be introduced in phases until 2022 and which may be compulsory, was revealed by HKU vice-president Professor Ian Holliday at a dinner with the student union on Friday.

"I was shocked to hear about it," union president Billy Fung Jing-en said. "Our main concern is his wording. He said 'If you don't agree with the policy, then please don't come to HKU'."

HKU undergraduates would also have to spend time overseas, as well as on the mainland.

The president and vice-chancellor Professor Peter Mathieson said that the policy would help students build up a "truly global perspective".

"We confidently believe that such opportunities will enhance the 'whole person development' which we aim to provide for all HKU students," he said.

Mathieson said exemptions from mainland trips "will be possible where justified" but HKU's leadership "believes in the general principle of offering all of our students opportunities to live and work outside Hong Kong during their studies".

An online poll by the union showed 97 per cent of undergraduates were against any requirement for them to go to a particular place to study.

"Why make it compulsory? More specifically, why force students to visit a particular place, that is, the mainland?" Fung asked during a radio programme.

Fung's views are shared by many students, including a 17-year-old international school student.

"I understand that students could learn Chinese and about the Chinese culture through the policy, but why force them?" said the student.

But not everyone agrees. A 16-year-old student said: "The somewhat anti-Chinese mentality that these students have is the reason why Hong Kong is beginning to lag behind."

On Monday, Holliday apologised for the comments he made at the student union dinner.