Baptist University student union president Lau Tsz-kei and the convenor of a Cantonese language support group Andrew Chan Lok-hang were suspended on Wednesday for their role in a stand-off last week between university staff and students over a mandatory Mandarin course required for graduation.
Here’s what led to the stand-off, and the ensuring additional demonstration happening today.
What made students protest?
Baptist University introduced a proficiency test last year for students who did not want to take the mandatory Mandarin course. Those who pass this test would be exempt from taking the course.
Recently released results showed 70 per cent of those who took the test failed it. Even an ambassador for Mandarin at the university failed the test.
This led to the students questioniong whether the test was too difficult. Some say there was a lack of transparency as the marking scheme was only made public last week - months after the test took place.
The most important issue seems to be that some students’ feel they shouldn't have to study Mandarin to graduate. Many believe the school should trust that they are wise enough to decide what courses to take. Others feel they only need Cantonese and English in Hong Kong.
University students to hold demonstration today at Baptist University after stand-off last week regarding mandatory Mandarin module
Why is Mandarin a requirement for graduation?
The institution start the requirement in the 2007/2008 academic year. Baptist University says it is in line with its goal to give students the necessary skills to study, work, have cultural exchanges and a social life. It would also contribute to the city’s education policy to ensure students are proficient in written English and Chinese, and spoken Cantonese, English and Mandarin.
But in most local public universities, Mandarin is not a requirement for graduation. Lingnan University students, though, have to pass two mandatory Mandarin modules to graduate, and they do not have the option of taking an exemption test.
Is the latest incident linked to pro-independence activity on campuses?
With some university students involved in separatism campaigns on campus, some wonder if the this recent controversy was driven by a deeper political agenda.
But Lau maintained that students did not have negative feelings towards the language. They are just angry that the course is compulsory.
Chan described himself as a local culture conservationist, saying he did not support Hong Kong independence and was not a “localist”. He founded Cantonese support group Societas Linguistica Hongkongensis in 2013 to promote the use of Cantonese as a counter-movement against the increasing prevalence of Mandarin.