Photo by Ivan Aleksic on Unsplash
Photo by Ivan Aleksic on Unsplash

Statement | Global education community rallies in defence of academic freedom in Hong Kong

published 29 May 2020 updated 3 June 2020

Education International stands firmly behind its affiliate, the Hong Kong Professional Teachers' Union, and personnel facing degrading and threatening statements made by Chief Executive Carrie Lam.

In an interview that foreshadows a government crackdown on rights and freedoms in Hong Kong, Chief Executive Carrie Lam said that “biased and fallacious arguments have been spreading on campus”. She went on to threaten that education could not be left unattended and that Liberal Studies would be “handled by gatekeepers”.

Education International, the global federation of education unions representing over 32.5 million educators, strongly denounces all government attempts to undermine academic freedom. The fact that these actions aim to advance an anti-democratic agenda makes the situation all the more egregious.

“Institutional autonomy is a necessary condition for the exercise of academic freedom. Legislative, regulatory, and administrative limitations on the autonomy of education institutions, ranging from state interference in their governance to controls on their academic programs, severely undermine the ability of education personnel to conduct teaching and research and to undertake critical inquiry freely. Teachers should not be hindered or impeded in exercising their civil rights as citizens, including the right to contribute to social change through freely expressing their opinion of state policies and of policies affecting education”, stresses David Edwards, General Secretary of Education International.

A strong education workforce is the single most important factor in ensuring quality education for all. At all times, including throughout the current Covid-19 pandemic, academics and educators have gone above and beyond to support their students and continue to provide them with the best possible comprehensive education, including by nurturing life skills, critical thinking and freedom of expression.

All governments must act in service of their citizens. To this end, instead of antagonising education personnel, Hong Kong authorities should focus on strengthening education by working with educators and their unions, investing in the profession, ensuring academics’ rights are respected, and decent working conditions are assured.