Hong Kong gets a ‘D’ in academic freedom index

Published (HKT): 2021.03.17 06:00

Hong Kong has been ranked “D” in the latest Academic Freedom Index, with observers citing a national security law imposed by Beijing as a factor in eroding freedoms.

In a range between zero and one, Hong Kong received 0.348 points in the index published by the Berlin-based Global Public Policy Institute last week, down from 0.442 the year before. Its grade also fell from “C” to “D” this year — the second lowest tier of countries and regions.

Hong Kong’s score had fallen by more than 0.15 points in the last five years, according to the report.

The index assigns a score based on freedom to research and teach, freedom of academic exchange and dissemination, institutional autonomy, campus integrity and freedom of academic and cultural expression.

Scholars at Risk, one of the organizations that contributed to the index, published a statement on March 11 expressing concern about the pressures facing Hong Kong’s higher education community.

“The deterioration of Hong Kong’s academic freedom should be alarming to researchers, educators, students, and university administrators around the world,” said Clare Robinson, director of advocacy for the U.S.-based group.

“The backsliding we have seen over the past decade has quickly accelerated, endangering scholars’ and students’ freedom to ask questions or explore ideas, and tightening the government’s control over university affairs.”

The group noted that more than 100 people had been arrested under the “vague and overbroad” terms of the national security law, including legal scholar Benny Tai and Claudia Mo, who worked as a part-time lecturer at the Chinese University of Hong Kong.

Higher education institutions had implemented the national security law in ways that would erode academic freedom, Scholars at Risk said, citing the case of the Chinese University cutting ties with its newly elected student union over political remarks made by some of the student leaders.

Hong Kong’s score was likely to drop further in 2021 as the “harmful effects of the national security law grow,” and the city risked losing its status as a research and teaching hub, the group warned.

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