HKU governance report 2017

HKU Council reveals governance report, rejects proposal for independent chancellor

June 28, 2017 / by / 0 Comment

[Update (5/7/2017): the story is updated to include a statement by William Kirby.]

A long-awaited report on the University of Hong Kong’s governance structure, compiled by an external review panel, has been made public late Tuesday night. Earlier that day, HKU Council decided in a meeting to release the report, along with a separate report written in response by a working party of HKU Council members.

One of the divergences between the reports concerned the role of university chancellor: the review panel favoured separating the role from the chief executive, while the working party opposed it. In the June 27th meeting, Council took the side of the working party and “agreed in general” with its recommendations, according to a mass email by a Council representative.

Both reports also discussed issues such as confidentiality of Council meetings, disciplinary measures for students, and the operation of Council committees.

In the governance report, the review panel recommended that the university’s chancellor be “largely honorary” and “independent.” Currently the chief executive is HKU’s chancellor by default, and the panel argued that this created an “unavoidable potential conflict of interest.”

The panel also said these reforms could benefit a new chief executive, and could be “a significant step towards rebuilding trust.” In the meantime, there will still be “well-established lines of accountability” like the UGC for the government to hold HKU to account.

This position was backed by two out of three members of the review panel. The dissenting member, Peter Van Tu Nguyen, wrote that the concerns of political interference are “totally without foundation,” and there are public interest reasons to keep the arrangement.

In response, the working party rejected the recommendation. Instead of separating the role of chief executive from university chancellor, the working party suggested that a more “pragmatic” method was to establish “formal procedures” relating to the exercise of the chancellor’s powers.

An example given was letting the nominations committee make a “skill template,” which can assist the chancellor to find candidates for certain Council seats. The stated aim of such formal procedures was to have “two-way communication with the chancellor.”

Report of import, in short

This is the latest development in a governance reform initiative that has taken more than a year. In April 2016, HKU Council established a three-person, independent review panel, tasked with ”[reviewing] the effectiveness of the current governance structure.”

Members of the review panel were Malcolm Grant, Chancellor of the University of York; William C. Kirby, a professor at Harvard University; and Peter Van Tu Nguyen, a former High Court judge.

After some delay, Council received the report by the end of February 2017, and established a working party to implement and “look into” the report’s recommendations. The working party was composed of Council members: Brian Stevenson, Henry Chan Hin-lee, Joseph Chan Cho-wai, Ayesha Lau, Patrick Poon Sun-cheong, and Rosie Young Tse-tse.

At the time, the review panel’s report was not made public, with president and vice-chancellor Peter Mathieson defending the decision against criticism.

Now that the Council has revealed the report, it promises “sessions with staff, students and alumni to share views,” but no specifics are announced yet.

Citizen News reported on July 4th that Kirby issued a statement, stating that the panel has “given our best recommendations, based on enduring global standards of university governance.” Kirby did not comment on whether he agreed with the working party’s interpretation of his report. Citizen News also contacted Grant for comment but received no reply.

Speaking to Undergrad yesterday, HKUSU President Ed Wong Ching-tak called Council’s decision “conservative,” and said it accommodated the government’s wishes at the expense of HKU’s best interests.

The review panel’s report can be read in full here. The working party’s report can be read in full here.

This is a developing story; check back at our site for continuing coverage.


Law and literature student at HKU.