Baptist University becomes second Hong Kong varsity to tighten access after trashing of city campuses during protests

Chan Ho-him

Baptist University has become the second varsity in Hong Kong to install card-reading machines at entrances to strengthen access control, after anti-government protesters vandalised and occupied some campuses last year.

But the move has raised concerns over an invasion of privacy and a possible breach of land lease conditions on the provision of the public’s access to an open area on the Kowloon Tong campus.

When the university planned a campus extension in 2007 for a School of Communication and Academy of Visual Arts building, public open space of about 1,800 square metres (19,375 square feet) was promised.

According to its land lease and a Legislative Council document, the university said it would provide a sculpture garden with student artwork that would be open from 6am to 11pm every day. The building was completed in 2010 after lawmakers approved HK$237 million (US$30.5 million) in funding.

The public has access to an open space on the Baptist University campus. Photo: Xiaomei Chen

Last week, Polytechnic University in Hung Hom installed turnstiles at the campus’ three main entrances despite its land lease stating that a 7,850 square metre open space must be accessible to the public between 7am and midnight.

The Lands Department said on Tuesday that because campus renovations were under way, it was necessary to limit entry.

It also said it would communicate with PolyU to look for a solution.

Various universities imposed extra control measures as the second term started this month, after protesters entered some campuses, vandalised buildings, made petrol bombs and blocked nearby roads last November.

At Baptist University’s visual arts building, where the public open space is located, temporary security checkpoints were set up at entrances.

Although entry to the sculpture garden was generally allowed to visitors when the Post checked on Tuesday, cordons were set up at another part of the open space.

Card readers have been installed at Baptist University entrances. Photo: Xiaomei Chen

Lawmaker Andrew Wan Siu-kin said the university should meet the public’s expectations on its promise of access to the open space.

“It is important to find out whether the university is in breach of any of these conditions,” he said. “Cordoning part of the area is not really necessary if the public should be allowed in.”

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A university spokesman said on Tuesday night that it had communicated with security staff to make sure the public could access the open space during opening hours.

The Lands Department said it inspected the open space at Baptist University on Tuesday and found it was generally available for the public’s use, but a small portion of the area had been fenced off because of repair works nearby. It added that it would continue to communicate with the university to make sure land lease conditions were being strictly followed.

Lawmaker Andrew Wan wants to know if the university has breached any lease conditions. Photo: Edmond So

Meanwhile, student union president Keith Fong Chung-yin said various groups had met with the university’s management last week to raise concerns over the card-reading machines.

“Installing card-reading machines is unnecessary as there are security guards checking our IDs, which is also a quick process … The card-reading machines could also be an invasion of students’ privacy, making them feel they are being watched whenever they enter or leave the campus,” he said.

Fong said the university told the student union that access records would be kept for about three weeks.

Keith Fong says the card-reading machines are unnecessary. Photo: Tory Ho

Senior lecturer Bruce Lui Ping-kuen agreed there were potential privacy issues and urged the university to detail how it would handle access records transparently to ease concerns.

But Joyce Wong, a third-year social sciences student, said she was not too concerned about privacy issues, as she believed the university would not provide the data to a third party or use it for other purposes.

A university spokeswoman said the management had been communicating closely with students on the new security measures, and their suggestions and concerns would be taken into consideration.

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