Some Hong Kong universities have cancelled or are on the verge of calling off activities welcoming newcomers for the academic year, with student unions linking the decisions to the escalating anti-government protests.
The changes came amid a worsening political crisis sparked by the now-shelved extradition bill, with young people forming the bulk of protesters. Some students among the demonstrators have said they intended to go on strike when the new school year opens in September.
On Thursday, Chinese University joined the University of Hong Kong and Polytechnic University as institutions that have cancelled their inauguration ceremonies this year. CUHK said its faculties would organise different types of activities to welcome freshmen.
HKU earlier said it decided to cancel its inauguration ceremony for new students, an annual event since 1999. No reasons were given for the decision, with the ceremony originally scheduled for August 28.
“HKU reviews the content and format of activities from time to time. This year, the university has decided to let faculties arrange activities more in line with their style, and which allows more interaction between new students and existing faculty members,” an HKU spokeswoman said.
Similarly, PolyU also called off its inauguration ceremony for new students this year.
“Schools or departments of the university will host orientation events for new students,” it said without elaborating on the cancellation.
Inauguration ceremonies have in recent years become a platform for student leaders to make political statements.
Davin Wong, acting president of HKU Students’ Union, said the university should explain why the event was cancelled, though he believed the decision could be linked to the protests in recent weeks.
He said the ceremony, which was an occasion for management and students to make speeches, should be held during this time of social unrest.
“Universities have a role [in this social movement] ... What is mentioned in a ceremony would reflect the views of universities or students, including issues to be addressed,” Wong said.
Universities have a role [in this social movement] ... What is mentioned in a ceremony would reflect the views of universities or students, including issues to be addressed
Davin Wong, HKU Students’ Union
Baptist University said it would make a decision on its ceremony after “reviewing all relevant factors”, while City University also said it would “review the matter”.
Secretary for Education Kevin Yeung Yun-hung wrote in an online post on Thursday that the education sector had been talking about challenges and concerns faced by schools in the new academic year.
“The common aim of the Education Bureau and different school stakeholders is to ensure students can learn in a safe, orderly and professional teaching environment, and free from interference from political and other factors,” Yeung stated.
Meanwhile, the Education University of Hong Kong has joined the list of local universities cancelling orientation camps, an event also commonly held for newcomers.
EdU’s student union made the announcement on Facebook on Thursday, stating it did not have enough manpower to organise the camp while supporting the protests and handling union matters.
“Also, there were unceasing conflicts last week and the social atmosphere has been heating up. At this time, large orientation activities could pose risks to personal safety of students or organisers,” the union stated.
It said the New Students Friendship Day organised by the university’s Student Affairs Office would continue.
Student unions of some other universities, including Baptist University and the University of Science and Technology, previously announced the cancellation of their orientation camps this year because of the social unrest.
Education sector lawmaker Ip Kin-yuen said cancellation of inauguration ceremonies at universities could reflect that the overall mood was “rather turbulent”.
“An institution might consider that there would be lots of risks in holding such ceremonies,” he said.
Additional reporting by Peace Chiu
This article Why Hong Kong universities are cancelling inauguration ceremonies and orientation camps this year first appeared on South China Morning Post