The University of Hong Kong chief has said that politicisation of higher education in Hong Kong is “deeply regrettable,” days after he signed a statement opposing independence for the city.

Vice-Chancellor Peter Mathieson told Scotland on Sunday that he “at no time said that discussion of Hong Kong independence is an abuse of freedom of expression.”

Mathieson, who is to take the reins at the University of Edinburgh next year, was among ten heads of local universities who signed a joint statement on September 15 saying they did not support independence, and that it contravened the Basic Law. The debate on free speech was sparked by the emergence of pro-independence banners on university campuses at the start of the school year.

peter mathieson
Peter Mathieson. File photo: Cloud.

The statement also said: “We treasure freedom of expression, but we condemn its recent abuses. Freedom of expression is not absolute, and like all freedoms it comes with responsibilities.” However, Mathieson told the paper that the mention of free speech was related to “hate speech” following student messages on campus about an official’s son and the 9/11 attacks.


He said the notion of debating independence was not mentioned: “The second part of the statement restated a position that I and other universities have taken before, that as institutional leaders we do not support Hong Kong independence… Sometimes different political camps here exploit the same words or events to mean different things according to their own aims and wishes.”

Following the statement, students at the Chinese University of Hong Kong established a freedom of expression concern group last week. Meanwhile, Ryan Lee – the president of Lingnan University Students’ Union – said that “the heads of ten universities have become political puppets.”

Tom founded Hong Kong Free Press in 2015 and is the editor-in-chief. In addition to editing, he is responsible for managing the newsroom and company - including fundraising, recruitment and overseeing HKFP's web presence and ethical guidelines.

He has a BA in Communications and New Media from Leeds University and an MA in Journalism from the University of Hong Kong. He previously led an NGO advocating for domestic worker rights, and has contributed to the BBC, Deutsche Welle, Al-Jazeera and others.