The Hong Kong government has denied it is targeting the higher education sector, after funding proposals for universities were axed.
University students have been a major part of the protest movement that has been ongoing for five months. University campuses, meanwhile, have been battlegrounds between protesters and the police throughout November.
Two weeks ago, the government withdrew funding plans totalling HK$1.4 billion for the expansion of the Polytechnic University, and earlier this week pulled two funding proposals totalling HK$250 million for two medical teaching facilities at the University of Hong Kong and the Chinese University of Hong Kong. The plans were reportedly axed following opposition by pro-Beijing lawmakers, Ming Pao reported.
Pro-democracy lawmakers asked the government at a Finance Committee meeting of the legislature on Friday why the funding requests were pulled.
“Which lawmaker expressed concern before they were pulled? Or was it dozens of lawmakers saying they will vote down the funding plans?” People Power lawmaker Ray Chan asked.
Civic Passion lawmaker Cheng Chung-tai said Hong Kong lacked medical professionals: “What is the reason for the government to stop the development of the medical sector at this time without any reason?”
Secretary for Financial Services and the Treasury James Lau denied the government was targeting the higher education sector.
He said some legislators had concerns over the funding proposals – without naming them – after the Food and Health Bureau approached them. He said the items will be put back on the agenda after the government conducts further lobbying work.
“The items were only temporarily pulled,” Lau said.
Pro-Beijing Federation of Trade Unions lawmaker Ho Kai-ming denied he was the lawmaker who opposed the funding.
“The Federation of Trade Unions and I support the development of universities,” he said.
But Ho was concerned that the new buildings proposed at the Chinese University of Hong Kong would be close to the University MTR station and a highway, and thus posed dangers. He was referring to previous protests at the university, at which protesters threw items onto the railway and the Tolo Highway.
“We want the bureau to explain [the chosen location],” he said.
Shiu Ka-fai of the pro-business Liberal Party said he had not heard about pro-Beijing lawmakers pressing the government to pull the funding proposals.
“The government has been saying we lack medical [professionals] – why pull the funding?” he asked.
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