Hong Kong Baptist University (HKBU) has become the city’s third university to distance itself from its student union, after university president Alexander Wai announced it would stop collecting membership fees on behalf of the student union.

Wai, who also announced plans for mandatory national security education, denied the move meant the university was severing ties with the union. But he said on Monday the union should take responsibility for administering its own finances and work to gain the support of fellow students, according to media reports.

Hong Kong Baptist University. Photo: GovHK.

The president said that ever since he himself was a student he had found it “strange” that university management collected membership fees on the union’s behalf.

“Accepting the fees was a favour, but not accepting them is what’s reasonable,” the president was quoted as saying, adding that HKBU had no plans to take over student union premises.

HKBU told HKFP that the university came to its decision to stop accepting student union fees after a review.

“It has been concluded that [HKBUSU]’s operational independence should be reflected in its financial management in addition to its other rights and responsibilities,” it said in an email statement.

HKBU’s student union said the move would have a great impact on its finances and operations.

“Once the school no longer collects membership fees, the number of members and income of the student union will be greatly reduced,” the union wrote on its Facebook page, saying students’ motivation to join the union would also decrease.

HKBU President Alexander Wai (R). Photo: Facebook.

The union editorial board’s chief editor-in-chief Vivian Ko said the union was not consulted before the decision was announced, adding that it did not reflect the opinion of the general student body.

The Chinese University of Hong Kong and the University of Hong Kong (HKU) have both severed ties with their student unions since the beginning of this year, citing national security concerns. Both groups of student union leaders have since stepped down after separate incidents involving pressure from authorities.

HKU announced it would no longer collect student union membership fees and would take over student union premises as part of its decision to cut ties.

National security education

Wai also announced plans to implement a mandatory national security education curriculum for undergraduates in the upcoming academic year.

The university told HKFP the courses will be introduced under its Co-curricular Learning Programme. All newly-admitted undergraduates will be required to undertake the courses before they graduate.

The units, which would not count towards students’ final grades, would cover a broad range of topics, including internet security, the financial system and health. External experts will be hired to teach the seminars, according to the reports.

A Beijing-imposed national security law went into force in Hong Kong in June 2020.

Secretary for Education Kevin Yeung. Photo: RTHK Screenshot.

Secretary for Education Kevin Yeung expressed support for the move, saying all Hong Kong schools and universities had the responsibility under the security law to provide such classes.

“We support the decisions of schools to make changes in its curriculum or by other means according to the law’s requirements. We support the decision of HKBU to undertake this task,” the secretary told reporters following HKBU’s announcement on Monday

Update 27.07.21: This article has been updated to include HKBU’s statement.

Rhoda Kwan

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.