Hong Kong’s last colonial governor Chris Patten told Ming Pao, through his secretary, that the “chief executive is mistaken” on Thursday. He was responding to the Education Bureau’s rebuttal to his column about academic freedom.

The bureau claimed that the tradition of the having the chief executive as chancellor of all government-funded universities stems from Patten’s decisions more than twenty years ago. Student unions in Hong Kong are currently campaigning against the practice, which they say harms academic freedom.

Education Bureau. Photo: Apple Daily.

Patten denied the accusation and said again that he had suggested that universities select their own chancellors, but was unsuccessful. The Education Bureau said on Thursday that Patten did not revise the mechanism during his tenure nor during the handover of the colony from Britain to China in 1997.

The response of the Education Bureau “must have been the thinking of the chief executive [Leung Chun-ying], but the chief executive is mistaken,” Patten said.

Former Governor of Hong Kong, Chris Patten. File Photo: Wikimedia.

However, Patten also told Ming Pao that he was happy to hear that the Education Bureau has said that the selection of faculty is part of academic freedom and institutional autonomy. He said that he would watch developments closely over the coming months and years.

The former governor said on Monday that Hong Kong’s academic freedom and institutional autonomy were under threat from Beijing, and that universities are being “brought to heel” because many students supported the pro-democracy Occupy movement in 2014. This was denied by the Education Bureau, which said: “Such a claim is totally groundless and a sheer fabrication and the HKSAR Government expresses deep regret.”

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Chantal Yuen

Chantal Yuen is a Hong Kong journalist interested in issues dealing with religion and immigration. She majored in German and minored in Middle Eastern studies at Princeton University.