Hong Kong Baptist University has opted to keep a controversial Mandarin proficiency graduation requirement for students, months after a heated spat over an exemption test that saw two students temporarily suspended.

Undergraduate students at the school are required to reach “foundation Putonghua proficiency” in order to graduate. They must either enrol in a Mandarin course or prove their language proficiency – such as by passing an exemption test.

lui lok hei
Lui Lok-hei. Photo: inmediahk.net.

In January, Student Union President Lau Tsz-kei and Chinese medicine student Andrew Chan Lok-hang were amongst students who took part in a protest at the school’s language centre after it was revealed that 70 per cent of the students failed the exemption test. In a widely shared video, Lau is seen swearing at teachers at the centre.

Following a disciplinary hearing, Chan and Lau were suspended for eight days and one term respectively. The pair failed in their appeal to overturn the decision and were also told to apologise. In response to the incident, the university set up working groups to review the unpopular language requirement.

Baptist University
Baptist University. File photo: In-Media.

The school’s senate approved the groups’ recommendation to keep the requirement at a meeting on Wednesday, according to acting Student Union President Ken Lui Lok-hei. Under a proposal that was approved at the meeting, the school’s Mandarin course will be counted towards students’ credits, but will not affect their cumulative GPA.

Among the working groups’ recommendations was for the school to reimburse the testing fee for students who choose to take the National Putonghua Proficiency Test after completing the university’s preparatory course.

Students who do not take the course but receive satisfactory results are also eligible for the reimbursement.

lui lok hei
Lui Lok-hei. Photo: inmediahk.net.

Lui said that his experience with the working group was unpleasant and that at one point, he was told by a member of the group that he could leave the school if he did not wish to learn Mandarin. However, he declined to disclose the name of the staff member, saying that he did not wish to put pressure on them.

“The student union’s demand is very simple – to get rid of the Mandarin-language graduation requirement. We believe the school’s interim measures is an attempt to dilute the incident, rather than to tackle the problem head-on,” Lui said.

Lui added that he hoped the school could give clear reasons for requiring students to study Mandarin, a policy which he said differs from those of other universities in Hong Kong.

Karen is a journalist and writer covering politics and legal affairs in Hong Kong for HKFP. She has also written features on human rights, public space, regional legal developments, social and grassroots activism, and arts & culture. She is a BA and LLB graduate from the University of Hong Kong.