Bad news just keeps piling on the University of Hong Kong (HKU).
For the better part of the year, controversy over the appointment of a pro vice chancellor dogged Hong Kong’s most prestigious university, tarnishing its brand.
The loss of some of its luster seemed to overshadow its fall in international academic rankings.
One of the direct results of these developments was a big drop in donations.
As its latest annual report shows, HKU has had a 55 percent decline in private grants this year to HK$680 million (US$87.73 million).
That contributed to a 50 per cent drop in its surplus which was nearly HK$1.24 billion last year, down from HK$2.5 billion a year earlier and the lowest since 2012 when it was just HK$67 million.
Adding to the lower surplus was poor return on HK$669 million worth of investment, down 42 per cent.
The figures cap an eventful year in HKU’s 155-year history marred by a credibility crisis after an ugly fight over professor Johannes Chan.
Chan had been considered a shoo-in for pro vice chancellor, having been endorsed by a selection committee, until the HKU council rejected his appointment after months of delay.
HKU is in the market for a new council chairman after Edward Leong retired.
There is talk former education minister Arthur Li will get the job.
Reports say his appointment will be announced in the coming week, the quietest period in the calendar.
Still, HKU emerged as the biggest recipient of government research funding for the 14th straight year.
It attracted more than 1,200 leading and aspiring entrepreneurs to its DreamCatchers initiative thanks to a steady stream of tuition income, subventions and other government incentives.
Vice chancellor Peter Mathieson called them “fantastic achievements” that have been “somewhat overshadowed in the public eye by events relating to the university’s governance”.
That said, Mathieson stressed that academic freedom remains sacred at HKU and it is as sound as ever.
“However, our institutional autonomy has been tested, much as it is tested in any publicly funded institution from time to time,” he said.
“We should take it as a compliment that students, staff, alumni, funding bodies, politicians, the media and others all have an interest in the university and want to influence its governance.”
HKU said the fall in donations was related to the end of the sixth round of funding in which private grants are matched with public money.
It said the lower investment income was a result of the challenging investment environment.
Apparently, HKU has a lot to raise other than money.
One involves raising confidence if it wants to remain a premier educational institution.
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