The Education Bureau has defended its requests to the University of Hong Kong (HKU) for thorough review on donations received by the institution, with officials arguing that the requests should not be construed as interference in the university’s autonomy or academic freedom.
Education Secretary Eddie Ng Hak-kim said the government had received a number of complaints on the issue of donations and that the bureau had written to the HKU to conduct a thorough review.
University authorities were asked to examine the way the donations were handled and consider releasing further information on the sources of the donations, according to a written reply that Ng provided Wednesday in response to a query from lawmaker Chan Kam-lam.
Chan had wanted to know whether the Education Bureau had looked into a case in which Occupy Central co-founder Benny Tai allegedly helped unidentified people make donations to HKU, Ming Pao Daily reported.
Media reports said last October, citing anonymous emails, that Tai received a donation of HK$1.45 million (US$187,040) which he passed on to the university.
Tai originally claimed that two of the donations were from unidentified donors but later said all of the donations were from Reverend Chu Yiu-ming, another co-founder of Occupy Central.
The emails attracted attention because the university is not allowed to accept money from unidentified sources.
Both Tai and Johannes Chan, former dean of HKU’s faculty of law who had handled one of the donations from Tai, did not respond to queries from Ming Pao Daily.
Joseph Wong Wing-ping, a former chief of the Education Bureau, said the bureau’s requests to HKU for information sparks concern over violation of institutional autonomy, and perhaps even the city’s Basic Law.
A spokesman from the bureau said the government has a duty to pay attention to the operations of publicly funded institutions that receive a large amount of public money.
The University Grants Committee Notes on Procedures also indicate that autonomy does not mean that the institutions can ignore public interest or are exempt from public scrutiny, the spokesman said.
A spokeswoman at HKU, meanwhile, confirmed that the university has received letters from the bureau and said that the HKU Council will make a decision on the donation issue.
Dr. Cheung Sing-wai, chairman of HKU Academic Staff Association, said he found the bureau’s move strange, and wondered if the government was trying to “selectively” manage the local universities.
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