Academics fear ‘less democratic’ university governance

One of Hong Kong’s top universities – the Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK) – will reduce student and academic representation on its governing council if a taskforce report on the university’s governance is fully implemented, allowing external members, including political appointees, more say in important university matters.

CUHK’s governing council this week endorsed the findings of its taskforce set up in December 2022 to examine the restructuring of its governing council. The taskforce report was closely watched by other universities in Hong Kong as a barometer of Hong Kong universities’ institutional freedoms, after CUHK came under pressure last year from pro-Beijing legislators.

The CUHK taskforce was set up after members of Hong Kong’s pro-Beijing legislature proposed a bill to increase the ratio of external members to make up two-thirds of CUHK’s self-governing body while reducing the council’s size to 34. They also wanted three legislators to sit on the council. The Hong Kong legislature is made up of handpicked pro-Beijing representatives.

Increasing the number of non-academic staff on the council would allow greater control and subject university management to greater public scrutiny, lawmaker Edward Lau, a current member of the CUHK council said in December last year.

However, to the relief of some, the taskforce report released on 17 April did not go as far as the lawmakers proposed. Instead, it suggested cutting the number of lawmakers on the council to two rather than three. The report also recommended reducing the members of the governing council from 54 at present to between 25 and 34 members to “ensure its efficiency and effectiveness”.

It recommended a ratio of internal members to external ones of between 1:2 and 1:1.6, which it said “would be a reasonable mix for good governance purposes and in line with the majority of publicly funded universities”. External members currently make up half the council.

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