The Hong Kong Education Bureau has rebutted former British governor Chris Patten’s remarks earlier this week that academic freedom in Hong Kong is under threat from Beijing. The bureau has also accused Patten of fabricating connections between the 2014 protests and university freedom.

chris patten
Chris Patten, former Governor of Hong Kong, commented earlier this week that Hong Kong’s academic freedom is under threat from Beijing due to students’ support for the 2014 protests. File Photo: Wikimedia.

“The current practice of the Chief Executive being the Chancellor of the government-funded universities precisely stems from the then Governor Patten’s decision,” the Education Bureau said.

It said that Patten himself had approved the mechanism for the Governor to be the Chancellor for all government-funded universities in 1994, and did not revise this mechanism in the remainder of his tenure or during the handover of the colony from Britain to China in 1997.

“In putting forward his arguments in an article after an interval of more than 20 years, Lord Patten was acting in complete ignorance of the facts.”

handover hong kong 1997
Photo: GovHK.

The bureau also denied Patten’s claims that the universities needed to be brought to heel because Beijing felt that students were supportive of the pro-democracy protests. “Such a claim is totally groundless and a sheer fabrication and the HKSAR Government expresses deep regret.”

The bureau quoted the President and Vice-Chancellor of the University of Hong Kong, Professor Peter Mathieson, saying that the terms “academic freedom” and “institutional autonomy” are different, and should not be used interchangeably. Mathieson also added that most education institutions do not have complete institutional autonomy. The bureau stated that there are clearly defined rules on the roles of the government and education institutions.

Hermina is a Hong Kong writer and journalist. She graduated with a degree in politics from Cambridge, and is interested in international affairs, particularly those related to China, the EU and the Middle East. She also enjoys political satire.