John Burns Carrie Lam

Carrie Lam interviewed by social sciences dean: “I don’t want to straight jacket [sic] universities”

July 01, 2017 / by / 0 Comment

In a written transcript published early Saturday morning, chief executive-elect Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor spoke on university governance, her political career, and her student experiences at the University of Hong Kong.

The interview was conducted on June 12th by HKU’s dean of social sciences John Burns, and the transcript was compiled and released by the Faculty of Social Sciences.

“I don’t want to straight jacket [sic] universities in Hong Kong,” Lam is quoted as saying.

On HKU’s institutional autonomy, Lam said, “I have not [sic] difficulty with this institutional autonomy, but for the eight universities which are heavily publicly funded there is an issue of public accountability.”

The interview transcript is set out in an 18-page electronic booklet that has been sent to the HKU community via mass email. The text is extensively edited and contains multiple omissions and copy-editing errors.

The timing of the publication coincides with the day when Lam is set to be sworn in as chief executive of Hong Kong. This year is also the 50th anniversary of HKU’s Faculty of Social Sciences, which counts Lam as one of its alumna.

When asked about how to improve the relationship between HKU and the government, Lam turned the question around.

“Are you suggesting that the relationship between the university and the government is not now good [sic]?”

Calling universities “very important institutions,” Lam said they should have their own “individual evolution” and “characteristics.” However, she stressed the importance of public accountability. In a veiled rebuttal to accusations of the chief executive meddling in university governance, Lam said the chief executive does not seek control.

“These recent discussions of governance in Universities is not to meet the wish of the HKSAR government or the Chief Executive, that he or she wants to control the university. It’s really to meet the growing standards of public accountability,” Lam said.

The salad days of Carrie Lam

Much of the interview is concerned with Lam’s personal history. Lam recalled starting her bachelor’s degree studies with the intention of becoming a social worker. Later, she became more interested in sociology, and joined the Social Sciences Society and later the HKUSU.

Lam also claimed that she was an activist “in those days”, but would not qualify by today’s standards. According to Lam, she helped put together an exhibition on the social problems of gambling, and also co-organized a “Hong Kong week.”

“In those days, I would regard myself as rather active,” Lam said. “I want to help to build a more just society.”

She also mentioned being a member of the China Study Society, and visiting Tsinghua University in Beijing in 1979 — a trip she calls “the most memorable experience of those years.” She said she was the deputy team leader of the delegation and helped to plan the trip, but gave no further elaboration.

Lam will soon be the first female chief executive of Hong Kong, but in the interview she avoided the topic of gender.

When asked by Burns whether she has advice for young women, Lam said she did not want to be “gender specific.” She also said she did not face challenges in the civil service as a woman, since when she entered the civil service “it was already very equal.”

Read the full Carrie Lam interview here.


Law and literature student at HKU.