Students from local universities marched from the University of Hong Kong to Government House on Thursday to protest against the chief executive’s power to appoint members to the councils of universities.

Around a hundred protesters participated in the march, which was led by HKU Student Union and the Hong Kong Federation of Students.

HKU Protest
HKU protesting to safeguard institution autonomy. Photo: HKFS via Facebook.

Protesters demanded amendment of the laws that make the chief executive the head of all publicly funded universities. They also urged the government to review the composition of the schools’ governing bodies in order to “safeguard institutional autonomy.” Students also chanted slogans such as “resist political interference” and “the chief executive does not represent me.”

HKU Protest
HKU protesting to safeguard institution autonomy. Photo: Campus TV, HKUSU via Facebook.

HKU Student Union president Billy Fung Jing-en told HKFP, “We hope that each school can establish a review committee on relevant articles of the university ordinance and statutes [which stipulate that the chief executive acts as the chancellor of all universities].”

“We want to raise public and student’s awareness with this demonstration since there has been a lack of discussion on the university ordinance in the past,” said Fung.

yellow flag police
Police warns student protesters outside the gate of HKU. Photo: Dave Coulson via Twitter

Organisers did not seek the approval from police for the demonstration and the march took place under heavy police presence. Fung said that organisers consider the right to protest a human right and hence does not require approval.

At one point during the protest on Arbuthnot Road, police refused passage for the procession and instead attempted to force students to pass through an underground tunnel. The stalemate ended after 30 minutes as protesters conceded to the arrangements proposed by police.

HKU protest
HKU protest blocked by police at Arbuthnot Road. Photo: 米報 Rice Post via Facebook.

On arrival at Government House, police only allowed ten student representatives to reach the main gate as others were guided to the rear gate.

A few pro-government protesters were present to support the chief executive, and called students who were protesting “wild chicken [meaning useless] students from wild chicken universities” and that students are not qualified to talk about autonomy.

The protest occurred in the wake of apparent political interference in the appointment of a HKU pro-vice chancellor. Former law dean Professor Johannes Chan Man-mun was recommended for the position by a search committee but the appointment has been repeatedly delayed. The official reason given by the Council is that they have to wait for the appointment of a new deputy vice chancellor before proceeding.

A petition was also launched earlier this week to protest the deferral. The petition is open to alumni of the University of Hong Kong, as well as to the general public.

By law, the chief executive acts as the chancellor of all tertiary institutions in Hong Kong, a vestige of the colonial era that remained following the handover. The chancellor also has the power to appoint a portion of the members to the governing body of the institutions.

According to an article by legislator Ip Kin-yuen and Helena Wong Pik-wan, over 70 members have been appointed to various institutions since Leung Chun-ying took office, with almost 30 percent of those individuals being current or former members of China’s political consultative committee or its legislature.

Arthur Lo is an undergraduate student currently on a gap year. During Hong Kong's Umbrella Movement protests, he worked as a fixer, translator and producer for foreign media outlets such as Al-Jazeera.