Legislative Council meeting Motion for the adjournment of the Council u/Rule 16(4) of the RoP

Motion for the adjournment of the Council u/Rule 16(4) of the RoP

MR CHAN CHUN-YING (in Cantonese):

President, when attending a forum held in Taipei on 24 March this year, Benny TAI, Associate Professor of the Faculty of Law of the University of Hong Kong (“HKU”), stated that “there was solid academic thinking behind his advocacy of “Hong Kong independence”, and “this was what a scholar did to put the outcome of his academic researches into personal practice”. In a statement issued on 30 March, the Special Administrative Region (“SAR”) Government expressed shock at the remark made by Mr Benny TAI as a university teaching staff member that “Hong Kong could consider becoming an independent state”, and strongly condemned it.

Following this incident, The Confederation of Tertiary Institutes Staff Unions, comprising six university teaching staff unions, issued a statement describing the condemnation of Mr TAI by the SAR Government as political persecution and suppression of his freedom of speech as well as academic freedom. Such being the case, I believe it is necessary to clarify the proposition of “academic freedom” before a reasonable judgment can be made.

Article 137 of Chapter VI of the Basic Law provides that “Educational institutions of all kinds may retain their autonomy and enjoy academic freedom”. To my understanding, the academic freedom protected by the Basic Law refers mainly to various educational institutions. In its reply dated 16 May to an oral question asked by Dr Junius HO in relation to a relevant issue, the Government made it clear that “we safeguard and respect academic freedom and institutional autonomy according to the law. The universities have the authority to decide on their research disciplines and projects and those of their academic staff”.

To my understanding, when making applications for research funding through the University Grants Committee or the Research Grants Council (“RGC”), various universities in Hong Kong have to submit their research proposals to a research committee for examination, and the vetting and approval of such research proposals usually have to go through a three-step process:

The first step is the stage of submitting a proposal. The proposal has to be submitted to the research office of the university concerned. Should the contents of the research involve a target and safety matters, approval must first be sought from the principal researcher and the Head of Department, and the specified form must be returned. The research proposal, together with the form, will then be submitted to the relevant committee for perusal, after which the committee will provide feedback to the applicant. The principal researcher will submit the revised proposal to the grantor.

The second step is the commencement stage. Before the formal commencement of the research proposal, the Head of Department must confirm the revisions made to the proposal according to the views expressed by the committee, or else he stands a chance of being held accountable for maladministration.

The third step is the research stage. Approval must first be sought should the research deviate midway from the contents of its originally submitted proposal. Failing to comply with the aforesaid procedure, the applicant will be regarded as violating academic integrity.

The three-step process mentioned just now represents the steps a research project must go through. The procedure is also the usual practice of universities in the international community. I am eager to know if the research project undertaken by Mr TAI on “Hong Kong independence” was conducted in accordance with the aforesaid three-step process. Furthermore, were the food, accommodation and transport expenses borne by the research funding of HKU?

In its reply dated 16 May to an oral question asked by Dr Junius HO, the SAR Government did not mention to the Member whether, after the issuance of its condemnation statement, HKU, as the employer of Mr TAI, had complained of the Government infringing on its academic freedom.

Earlier on, the Government made enquiries with RGC whether it had subsidized Prof Benny TAI in undertaking any academic research project on advocating “Hong Kong independence”. In its reply, RGC confirmed that it had not done so. As such, I have reasons to believe that Mr TAI’s so-called academic research on “Hong Kong independence” has nothing to do with his employer, HKU. Nor is the academic freedom of HKU involved.

President, I so submit.