Hong Kong University of Science and Technology president Wei Shyy resigns, triggering global search for successor

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The president of the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology (HKUST) will step down about 11 months before his contract is set to end, triggering a global search for his successor.

Professor Wei Shyy, who was appointed to a five-year term as the university’s fourth president in 2018, will now leave the role in October next year, rather than at the end of August in 2023 as planned. While he did not give a reason for quitting, or reveal what he intended to do next, he spoke on Tuesday of overcoming challenges over the course of his time with the institution.

“It has been my privilege to call HKUST home for the past 11-plus years,” he said. “The sense of duty to serve HKUST’s long-term interests and overall standing has guided our thinking and action during challenging times. In that spirit, the university will continue to open new horizons.”

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Shyy has been with the university for more than a third of its 30-year history, and HKUST said on Tuesday that it would launch an international search for his replacement.

Asked about Shyy’s plans for the future, the university’s public affairs office said he had not yet made any, as there was still a year to go before his departure and much work left to be done, including preparations for the establishment of HKUST’s new campus in Guangzhou.

“Given that he will also witness the official opening of HKUST [Guangzhou] before stepping down in October next year, he feels that it is the right time to pass the torch,” the office said.

The Education Bureau thanked Shyy on Tuesday, highlighting the new Guangzhou campus and HKUST’s enhanced scientific research capacity as major achievements.

Carlson Tong, chairman of the University Grants Committee, lauded Shyy’s contributions to innovation and technology in Hong Kong, citing HKUST’s “impressive result” in a recent assessment of local universities’ research.

Andrew Liao Cheung-sing, the school’s council chairman, thanked Shyy for his “valuable contributions” to the university over the past decade in different senior positions, first as provost and finally as president.

“President Shyy is a committed and strong leader, with clear vision and wholehearted dedication to the university,” he said. “On behalf of the university community, I wish president Shyy all the best in his future endeavours.”

HKUST’s Wei Shyy vows to condemn police if officers are proven to have violated tear gas rules

Grace Ling Lai-yun, chairwoman of the HKUST Staff Association’s executive committee, praised Shyy for his leadership over the years, and for his outreach to students.

But Rachel Lo, president of HKUST’s student union, accused Shyy of restricting students’ rights during his tenure by disciplining union members over on-campus activities related to the 2019 anti-government protests.

“We hope the next president will protect our rights,” she said.

Shyy is perhaps best known to those outside university circles for his handling of the death of Chow Tsz-lok, a computer science student who died of a brain injury days after suffering a fall in a car park in 2019 as police attempted to clear protesters nearby amid the social unrest that year.

Shyy was in tears as he announced Chow’s death during the second day of the university’s graduation ceremonies that year, and led the audience in observing a moment of silence.

“Chow Tsz-lok has passed away,” Shyy told the crowd. “We will go to the hospital as soon as this session finishes.”

Professor Wei Shyy (right) meets students over the incident involving Chow Tsz-lok on November 4, 2019. Photo: Felix Wong
Professor Wei Shyy (right) meets students over the incident involving Chow Tsz-lok on November 4, 2019. Photo: Felix Wong

At the time, he also promised to condemn police if they were found to have violated guidelines for firing tear gas during the clearance operation. A Coroner’s Court inquest into Chow’s death ultimately ended with jurors unable to decide whether his death was accidental or the result of homicide.

Notably, Shyy was also one of only three of the city’s eight public university heads to decline to sign his name to a joint statement supporting the national security law imposed on the city by Beijing in June of last year. The statement had voiced full support for the “one country, two systems” governing framework, adding: “The stability and prosperity of our country and our city are of paramount importance to the future of our younger generation.”

Shyy later clarified that he believed all Hongkongers should obey the law, including the security legislation, but noted it was “not for me to say whether to support [the law] or not”.

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