Banner warning students ‘not to apply’ raised at HKBU in protest of Mandarin requirements

Banner outside Hong Kong Baptist University saying “students, keep out”. Photo via Facebook.

Yesterday, thousands of students got their university entrance exam results — a key factor in determining which of the more than 21,000 students taking the test will land one of the city’s 15,000 coveted university placements.

Some students at Hong Kong Baptist University, however, seem less keen on having a new class of freshmen next semester.

A banner that read “students, keep out” was unfurled on an HKBU footbridge at about 1pm yesterday as students received their Diploma of Secondary Education (DSE) results.

Campus magazine HKBU Editorial Board reported that security guards at the Kowloon Tong campus removed the banner just a few hours later, citing safety concerns, but not before it was spotted by local outlets like Apple Daily and Ming Pao.


Posted by 香港浸會大學學生會編輯委員會 Hong Kong Baptist University Students' Union Editorial Board on Wednesday, July 11, 2018

So what exactly did it mean?

According to a post on a Facebook page called HKBU Mountain God, the banner was calling on potential HKBU applicants to “stay away from BU and protect themselves from the University’s tortuous and misaligned policies,” a specific reference to the controversial Mandarin proficiency test that sparked an on-campus protest in January. Well then.

At the heart of the controversy is HKBU’s requirement that all students be proficient in Mandarin before graduation, a condition that has fueled fears that the city’s traditional Cantonese dialect is being slowly pushed aside.

In June, HKBU weighed scrapping the controversial Mandarin requirement amid student protests, only to have members of the university’s senate in charge of academic matters ultimately keep it in place.

Student magazine the HKBU Editorial Board reported yesterday that the banner was hung by third-year biology student William Liu Wai-lim, and fifth-year Chinese medicine student Andrew Chan Lok-hang – who runs the HKBU Mountain God page, which he uses to address serious on-campus issues with humor.

“I want to express my opinion towards my university,” Liu told the magazine, before adding that HKBU is “nothing like a university.”

When asked by Coconuts HK to elaborate today, Liu said that freedom of expression and academic autonomy are necessary components of “real” universities, things he says HKBU ignores.

“Despite the fact that student senators in the HKBU senate have tried a couple of times to explain why the mandatory Mandarin test should be called off, the university still insists on their stance, saying that learning Mandarin will be good for students in the future,” he said.

He also argued that a university is no place for vocational training and that universities should let students choose what they want to learn rather than giving them mandatory courses.

Chan and Liu’s views have at least some company on campus.

One HKBU social science student who gave her last name as Chau told Coconuts she would also advise other students not to apply there, citing the mandatory Mandarin test as well as what she considered onerous extra-curricular activities requirements.

“We understand that learning a language may help us in the future, but why does it have to be Mandarin?” she asked.

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