University heads give up to 10% of salary to student fund
The presidents and vice presidents of the University of Hong Kong (HKU), Hong Kong Polytechnic University (PolyU), Lingnan University and the Education University of Hong Kong said this weekend that they would donate 10% of their salaries for a year.
The president of the City University of Hong Kong (CityU), Way Kuo, along with vice presidents at the university will forgo 10% of their salaries for eight months, while Hong Kong University of Science and Technology (HKUST) said in a statement the university’s president, Wei Shyy, “has taken the lead to donate his entire April salary to this fund, with a hope to call for the generous support and contribution from our community, including staff and alumni.”
Hong Kong has up to 20 April had some 1,026 COVID-19 cases with 4 deaths, but the economy has suffered considerably from lockdowns and travel restrictions which began in February. Many foreign student exchanges were already suspended in January and foreign students were advised to return home or were recalled by their universities.
Annual salaries for university heads in Hong Kong range between HK$4.65 million and HK$7.65 million (US$600,00 to just under US$1 million).
HKU, HKUST and the Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK) top the pay scales, which compare well with the heads of top state universities in the United States and vice-chancellor salaries in the United Kingdom. But university heads also receive monthly benefits on top of their salaries, according to official audit reports, which include housing and extended leave payments.
PolyU said the 10% of salaries would be donated to a financial assistance scheme for students. The university’s president, Teng Jin-Guang, said “the pandemic has been seriously affecting all businesses, and we are particularly concerned with the financial challenges faced by some of our students and their families due to the current situation. We hope this financial assistance scheme will help them in tiding over the difficult times.”
HKU said it would establish a Relief Fund with “a target of HK$10 million for the support of students and community members in need”, with the university’s president, Xiang Zhang, and all five of the university’s vice presidents donating 10% of their salaries for 12 months.
The university “will be encouraging HKU staff and other members to contribute to the cause as well”, according to a statement released last Saturday by the HKU president’s office.
HKUST has also said it had set up a special fund “to enhance its support for its students in coping with the hardship arising from this pandemic”. The university has been offering tuition fee deferments and financial aid in addition under its current budget and the university’s Alumni Endowment Fund.
The university said in a statement that it had no current plans for staff redundancies, pay freezes or leave without pay.
Hong Kong universities badly affected
While universities around the world have cut semesters short and closed during the coronavirus crisis, Hong Kong universities have been particularly hard hit with many universities, but particularly HKU, CUHK, PolyU and CityU, affected by huge pro-democracy protests sparked by a now-withdrawn bill to extradite criminals to China that engulfed the city from June 2019.
Fierce campus battles with police in November caused major damage to university buildings and facilities, leading to campus closures for weeks of repairs which had already strained university budgets before the virus hit.
PolyU, which reopened briefly in January for a small number of classes before stopping again during the coronavirus crisis, has estimated the cost of campus repairs after the week-long PolyU campus siege in November at as much as HK$700 million (US$90 million). Many campus buildings remain closed, although it reopened on 6 April for a limited number of health-related courses.
CUHK estimated the cost of repairs and enhanced security after the November clashes at around HK$70 million, while the CityU repair bill estimates were around HK$100 million.
Amid this exceptional expenditure, students have been clamouring for tuition fee refunds.
Li Mengyuan and Yan Zheqi, two mainland Chinese students at the Hong Kong Baptist University enrolled in a one-year masters programme, said in a letter published in local media last week that due to the extradition bill crisis and the coronavirus outbreak, in the 2019-20 academic year they had only 11 weeks of on-campus classes in the fall semester and two weeks of face-to-face classes in the spring.
“We believe the overall learning quality of online classes is still suboptimal – due to the lack of face-to-face interaction among teachers and students.
“Moreover, for students stranded in mainland China, access to online materials in Moodle and Google Drive is also compromised by censorship,” they wrote, calling on all Hong Kong universities to offer “compensation payment equivalent to one third of tuition fees to each and every masters student”.
“A significant amount of the masters programme tuition fee is used to finance campus amenities, such as university libraries, career centres, sports facilities and lecture halls featuring a range of seminars by distinguished scholars and speakers. As most of the campus services and activities were halted amid the coronavirus outbreak, we deserve compensation for the lost time we should have spent on campus,” they wrote.
Dozens of students at HKU have signed a petition demanding a 45% refund on tuition fees for the spring semester which should have started in February, saying they had been forced to pay full fees despite cancelled classes and a shift to online learning.
HKU, CUHK and HKUST – which have large numbers of mainland students who were unable to access all their online course offerings from the mainland – have so far refused fee reimbursements.
HKU has instead offered a pass or fail grading system which many students had called for or deferment so that students can stop and resume masters course in the next academic year. Students have said this would lead to another year of rental and living costs in an expensive city.
HKU said in a statement at the weekend it intended to resume basic services and partially reopen campus facilities from 20 April, with basic services including catering and reopening the university library.
Academic departments “can continue to exercise flexibility” in working from home if the nature of their work allowed it. “Departments are also encouraged to adopt flexible working-hour arrangements and staggered lunch breaks where appropriate,” it said, to be in line with social distancing rules.
However, HKU’s Pro Vice-Chancellor for Research Alfonso Ngan said there was a need to ensure that research laboratories “are kept at low density if they are to remain”, and would include staggered hours for individual researchers to ensure distancing.
HKU’s medical school, along with the CUHK medical school, held written exams for hundreds of students earlier this month, saying the graduation of medical students was critical for Hong Kong’s healthcare system.
The exams meant skirting around a 14-day government ban on groups larger than four that was in place at the time. The Hong Kong government provided a special exemption with the exams held in special venues with distanced seating arrangements, CUHK said.