Some universities in Hong Kong have become battlefields amid the recent social unrest, causing worries over the academic development in Hong Kong in the long run, especially when local universities saw declines in international league tables.
According to the rankings of Asia's 500 best universities released on Wednesday by Quacquarelli Symonds (QS), a London-based higher education analyst firm, Hong Kong's top three colleges, the University of Hong Kong, the University of Science and Technology, and the Chinese University of Hong Kong were ranked third, eighth and tenth respectively, each dropping one place from last year.
The world university rankings released in September by Times Higher Education also showed some of universities in Hong Kong slipping down the rankings, with the relatively unstable teaching and research environment being one of the reasons.
Mervyn Cheung, chairman of Hong Kong Education Policy Concern Organization, said although these rankings did not necessarily reflect the impact of the current social unrest on higher education in real time, he was worried that the continuing politicization of campus would have negative impacts on teaching and research in universities.
"Since 2014, when the illegal 'Occupy Central' movement happened, the politicization of higher education in Hong Kong is becoming more and more serious, which has downplayed the importance of teaching and research," Cheung said.
In fact, more than five months of social unrest in Hong Kong has yet to subside and some universities have become places where violence is rampant, with campuses being occupied by rioters and severely damaged. This raised concerns about the future development of higher education in Hong Kong.
As a seasoned educator, Cheung said it was hard to believe that universities could become a place where people involved in fighting and assaults. In such case, people may not feel comfortable to express their views, which in turn, might affect academic freedom, he added.
The lack of a peaceful and undisturbed campus environment also made Hong Kong's universities less attractive to the talent, Cheung said, "There are many choices for top scholars and students when universities around the world are recruiting talent."
Matthew Cheung, chief secretary for administration of China's Hong Kong Special Administrative Region government, said recently in his blog that people is Hong Kong's most valuable resource, and if violence continues, with politics taking precedence over education, the damage done to students will be hard to repair.
Brain drain, teaching and research hampered, and international reputation of universities damaged would affect Hong Kong's economic development and competitiveness, the chief secretary stressed.