Patten's post is hard to follow

October 6, 1995

The appointment of the political leader as chancellor of all Hong Kong institutes of higher education is antiquated and should be scrapped, according to the vice chancellor of the territory's most prestigious university.

The 1997 changeover of sovereignty, when the British colony reverts to Chinese rule is the opportune moment to scrap the system whereby the governor automatically becomes a figurehead for all universities and colleges, said Wang Gungwu, vice chancellor of Hong Kong University.

"The system we have now is a relic of history," he said. "A senator or member of the community could be made chancellor instead - that would be more normal."

The chancellor has been little more than a nominal, ceremonial head, taking an absolute stand of non-interference in both policy formation and implementation.

Edward Chen, director of Lingnam College, said: "We have nine institutions and everyone of them has the governor as ceremonial head. He must be very busy attending one or two events in each institution every year. Traditionally in colonial history there was only one institution and it was more sensible for the governor to be the figure of authority.

"Under the current constitution, the governor never interferes, and in my experience he has been really natural in choosing vice chancellors. Academic freedom really has been observed so far.

"You would not want the chief executive (the Beijing-appointed head of Hong Kong's post-1997 mini-constitution) to head institutions and to interfere."

But he added: "If the chief executive really wants to interfere, if things are really turning in that direction, he or she will anyway. One doesn't need to go through the proper channels."

Professor Chen said the future of the chancellor was often discussed by the heads of Hong Kong's institutes of tertiary education but no concensus was reached. "Some say there is more prestige in having a symbol of authority as chancellor. But as far as I'm concerned, we don't have to reach a collective decision - we should be able to go our own way on this one."

The vice chancellor of the Chinese University of Hong Kong would not comment, but Choi Po-King, a lecturer in education at the university, supported the need for change. She said a Chinese political leader as chancellor would accelerate what she sees as a growing trend toward undemocratic Chinese leadership in her university.

"This hierarchical culture will be reinforced if the chancellor is the head of the ruling party. We will see a return to a culture of subordinates and a dominant party. Chinese people, especially those in a position of authority, are not familiar with things like open-confrontation and debate. Lecturers are quite disturbed about all this."

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