On academic freedom

Did someone once say that you don’t really value your home country until you travel abroad? (Orwell or Kipling?) I have the same feeling. Despite what people in Hong Kong endlessly complained about its education system, I don’t think it’s really that bad. To be honest, current debates about the threat to academic freedom because Chan Kin Man at CUHK will go on trial for initiating the Occupy Central movement in 2014 and Arthur Li is now the chairperson of the Council of the University of Hong Kong were utterly stupid. I know my view here sounds very provocative, offensive and ‘controversial’ to the pro-democracy supporters, but I have the reasons to say so.

A couple of weeks ago, it was reported in Australian media that the Education Minister, a weasel called Simon Birmingham, axed funding to 11 ARC-approved research projects (like UGC in HK and ESRC in UK, all ARC-approved research projects underwent rigorous process of peer review), all of which are in the domain of the humanities. Griffith was also affected, with a project worth A$226,811 dis-approved by the minister at the last minute. Not only that, he even twittered on his account ridiculing the research projects. The minister even supported the racist politician Pauline Hanson’s stupid motion ‘It’s OK to be white‘ in the Senate so you can see how nasty and useless politicians here can be. For more info, please check this link out.

On this, I asked a fellow Australian colleague whether it’s possible for Griffith to hire a QC and sue the Australian government or do something like constitutional/judicial review on such disgraceful political intervention. (That’s a typical move made by Hong Kong people and Americans: when politics fails, go to the court.) Just imagine. Even Arthur Li and C. Y. Leung were well known for their strong opinions, there was no such incident of naked assault on academic freedom. So far, there is no last-minute block from the Hong Kong government to the grants to academics given by the RGC/UGC. I can also imagine if Carrie Lam or the EDB chief suddenly blocked an RGC-approved grant, the academics will definitely go to the court and seek judicial review on the count that such an intervention violates Articles 136 and 137 of the Basic Law, which reads:

Article 136

On the basis of the previous educational system, the Government of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region shall, on its own, formulate policies on the development and improvement of education, including policies regarding the educational system and its administration, the language of instruction, the allocation of funds, the examination system, the system of academic awards and the recognition of educational qualifications.
Community organizations and individuals may, in accordance with law, run educational undertakings of various kinds in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region.

Article 137

Educational institutions of all kinds may retain their autonomy and enjoy academic freedom. They may continue to recruit staff and use teaching materials from outside the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region. Schools run by religious organizations may continue to provide religious education, including courses in religion.
Students shall enjoy freedom of choice of educational institutions and freedom to pursue their education outside the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region.

Articles 136 and 137 of the Basic Law

Unfortunately, the Australian constitution didn’t have these two articles. The constitutions of Hong Kong and Australia don’t have any Bill of Rights, but if one takes a closer look into the Basic Law, a lot of clauses and articles aren’t that bad in terms of protecting human rights and freedom. It’s not a perfect constitution, but at least, these two articles may sound like the ‘Second Amendment’ that protects academic freedom from such naked ideological assault in Australia.

I know I might sound hypocritical here given the fact that I’m in Australia, not in Hong Kong. There are so many good things about Australia and there are reasons why there are concerns over Hong Kong losing its charm. The city is too crowded with Mainland Chinese tourists, too polluted, etc. But seriously, Hong Kong is not that bad and crazy as one can see in the post-truth politics here.

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