A Hong Kong university has said donations have recently been “inevitably affected” amid the ongoing anti-government protests that have often involved tertiary students, with some donors backing out of previous commitments.
City University, which saw a HK$100 million (US$12.9 million) year-on-year drop in donations according to figures from the last financial year, also warned that there would be a spillover effect on the city’s development in the long run from schools’ loss of income.
Among the more than 6,000 arrests police have made since protests first erupted last June, nearly 40 per cent were students, with some 700 from universities.
Polytechnic University, the University of Hong Kong, Chinese University and CityU were schools with the most students arrested.
In November, protesters have also occupied universities, blocked nearby roads and vandalised buildings, with police saying radicals had turned campuses into petrol bomb factories.
Some of the most intense clashes occurred at PolyU and CUHK, wrecking swathes of their premises.
Last week CUHK said HK$70 million was needed for campus restorations, while CityU, where protesters had vandalised facilities and trashed the president’s office, said a nine-digit sum would be needed for repairs.
On Friday a CityU spokeswoman said in reply to a Post inquiry that the social unrest had affected the whole community, including every university in the city, in aspects from admission figures to income from tuition fees and donations.
“Apart from a direct impact on the university’s development, these could also affect Hong Kong’s technological innovation, internationalisation and diversification in the long term.
“This has been a consequence that the whole of Hong Kong has to bear, and all stakeholders should come together to seek a solution,” she said.
CityU president Way Kuo also told Chinese-language newspaper Sing Tao Daily on Friday that some donors had pulled out from previous commitments or even planned to withdraw amounts previously donated, while there were also others who delayed remaining sums of donations.
Lawmaker Felix Chung Kwok-pan said he knew of a case in which a donor at PolyU had put donations on hold amid the protests, although the exact reasons were unspecified.
“[The donor] felt universities have been caught up in the chaos, and hoped to postpone donations for now ... but that doesn’t mean the donation won’t come at the end of the day,” he said.
Fung Wai-wah, a senior lecturer at CityU and a member of its governing council, said the body had not discussed donations during a meeting last November. But he expected some donors to be dissatisfied with students’ participation in protests, adding that a drop in donations could bring significant impacts to university operations.
“It is possible that without donations, a surplus during the financial year could turn into a deficit for the university,” he said. “I hope donors can realise that in the long term, the healthy development of a university depends much on support from the community.”
The campuses of Baptist University, HKU and the University of Science and Technology have also come under vandalism by protesters last November, although the damage was less severe.
A Baptist University spokeswoman said on Friday they had not encountered any donors withdrawing support, while PolyU, HKU, HKUST and CUHK did not comment on whether their sponsors had pulled out amid the protests.
A Post review of universities’ 2018/19 financial reports – with the year ending on June 30, a month into the anti-government protests sparked by the now-withdrawn extradition bill – found that at least five schools suffered a drop in donations.
HKU recorded the biggest plunge, with the amount in its “donations and benefactions” category dropping by about HK$200 million year on year. CityU and PolyU also saw a drop of nearly HK$100 million in donations each.
A university source told the Post that a significant drop in varsity donations during the last financial year “could still be normal” as there were many variables, for instance, some donations might be delayed as it took time for talks with donors.
The source added that the government’s Eighth Matching Grant Scheme – in which the government will match each dollar donated to universities – only began in July, and there might be deferred payments brought over to the current financial year that were not reflected.
But the source also admitted that the economic downturn triggered by the ongoing protests could mean a dampened mood for donations, especially if donors owned businesses which were hit by the civil unrest.