Hong Kong’s top university has cut ties with its student union saying the body has ”tarnished” the institution’s reputation and exposed it to “legal risks” linked to national security.

The University of Hong Kong – which is the city’s oldest and regularly ranks highly on international academic league tables – said it will stop accepting student union membership fees and providing financial services for the student union (HKUSU). In a statement released on Friday, it also said it will “enforce management rights” over the union’s offices and facilities, but did not elaborate.

HKU Main Building
The University of Hong Kong’s Main Building. Photo: HKU.

The university said the decision was made in view of an “increasingly politicised” student union which has been spreading “political propaganda” on its campus.

“As the cornerstone of the rule of law in Hong Kong, the Basic Law not only protects academic freedom… but also provides for upholding national security,” the statement read. “The HKUSU’s actions also bring legal risks to the university. It is now imperative for the university to clearly define the legal responsibilities of both parties.”

The HKUSU has criticised plans to implement national security education at the university, accusing the the institution of “bending over to the wolves of tyranny” and “giving up its institutional autonomy” in an open letter to HKU’s Vice-Chancellor Zhang Xiang in mid-April.

The union has also slammed Beijing’s electoral overhaul for the city, saying Hong Kong “has been reduced to a vassal of the communist regime.”

‘Not a safe haven’

The university said it “strongly condemned” the student union’s “radical acts.”

“The University is not a safe haven outside the law… It is not acceptable that the HKUSU, an independent student organisation, disregards the university’s advice and the overall interests of the HKU community while taking advantage of the services and facilities offered by the university,” it continued.

The institution said it may also take “further actions if necessary” but “will continue to facilitate student activities on campus”.

HKU Lennon Wall
Pro-democracy posters at the HKUSU building. File photo: Kelly Ho/HKFP.

The university is the second to cut ties with its student union in recent months citing national security concerns. In February, the Chinese University of Hong Kong announced it has severed ties with its elected student union. The union resigned a week later. The two institutions are the longest-standing universities in Hong Kong.

The announcement comes amid mounting attacks from state-owned media on university student unions in the city, which are supportive of the city’s flagging pro-democracy movement. Earlier this month, the state-run People’s Daily slammed the HKUSU as a “malignant tumour” that needed to be removed in order to restore peace on campus.

The rifts between universities and its student unions come amid growing concern over the state of academic freedom in the city after Beijing imposed a national security law last June in response to months of protests and unrest authorities have largely blamed on young protesters.

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Rhoda Kwan is HKFP's Assistant Editor. She has previously written for TimeOut Hong Kong and worked at Meanjin, a literary journal. She holds a double bachelor’s degree in Law and Literature from the University of Hong Kong.