Academic Freedom, Political Interference, and Public Accountability: The Hong Kong Experience

By Johannes M.M. Chan and Douglas Kerr


In 2015, interference with academic freedom dominated public discourse in Hong Kong. This article provides an analysis of academic freedom in Hong Kong, addresses some systemic problems, and engages the debates between academic freedom and accountability of publicly funded institutions. It argues that the interference is not a one-off incident but forms part of a general trend toward a more restrictive regime of control over tertiary institutions in Hong Kong. Protection of academic freedom is of particular importance in such a restrictive political context.

From Giordano Bruno, who was burned for preaching the heresy that the Earth was not the center of the universe, to the many unknown scholars tortured for speaking the truth during China’s Cultural Revolution, history is filled with sad pages documenting the suppression of academic freedom. Academic freedom is vulnerable in that academics and academic institutions have little but their own conscience and integrity to rely on in defending it, and that defense is usually at great personal cost. The threat to academic freedom is powerful and disturbing, since when academic freedom is not tolerated, let alone respected, other fundamental freedoms are also likely in peril.

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