Scholars and teachers should be left alone to run schools and outsiders should keep an arm’s length, a former top official of the University of Hong Kong (HKU) says.
Wang Gungwu, who served as HKU vice chancellor from 1986 to 1995, said outsiders should not interfere in the affairs of the school and limit their role to supporting its activities and taking part in discussions when there are different opinions.
Wang, 84, heads the East Asian Institute at the National University of Singapore.
He was replying to questions from Ming Pao Daily regarding a controversial decision by the HKU council to delay the appointment of a vice chancellor amid allegations of interference from the government.
The decision has angered students and academics who have accused the council of caving to political pressure.
Two-thirds of council members are outsiders after a 2003 revamp of the HKU governing body.
Wang said any outside interference will make it hard for HKU to promote scholarship or create an atmosphere conducive to learning.
Chairman Leong Che-hung defended the council, saying its members serve as trustees of the university’s interests.
The present setup is the result of a 2003 study by a group of academics and professionals including then Chief Justice Andrew Li, he said.
Joshua Mok, vice president of Lingnan University, said outsiders on university councils are part of a global trend.
The council’s role is to set direction and is not meant to obstruct the work of the school administration, he said.
Chris Patten, Hong Kong’s last colonial governor who serves as chancellor of the University of Oxford, said academic independence is important to any university.
In Hong Kong, it has helped its universities maintain their excellence in the face of global competition, he said.
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