Under-fire HKU vice-chancellor top in Asia for physics as row with university council rumbles on

Under-fire University of Hong Kong vice-chancellor Xiang Zhang has come first in Asia for physics in a rankings list compiled by an education platform as the institution’s governing council held its first meeting since the government intervened in a row involving senior management.

A source said the Wednesday meeting lasted less than 30 minutes and discussions were limited to HKU’s finances.

Zhang took the top spot in the physics category in the listing, compiled by Research.com, alongside four other HKU staff who notched up first in Asia in their disciplines.

The other academics from the university singled out were Yuen Kwok-Yung in microbiology, Zhao Guochun for earth science, Alec Stone Sweet in law and Tak Mak for molecular biology.

“This recognition highlights the significant contributions of these professors to their fields and the substantial impact their work has had on society,” the university said.

“It also demonstrates HKU’s dedication to research excellence and innovation, inspiring the University to continue pushing the boundaries of knowledge and making a lasting, positive impact on the world.”

Other notable names at HKU in the Research.com rankings included population health expert Paul Yip Siu-fai, who ranked first in China for social sciences and humanities.

The results came as Zhang and Priscilla Wong Pui-sze, the head of the university’s council remained embroiled in a row over a May management reshuffle said to have been carried out without consultation with Zhang.

(From left) HKU vice-chancellor Xiang Zhang and Priscilla Wong, head of the university council, are at loggerheads over controversial management appointments. Photo: SCMP

Chief Executive John Lee Ka-chiu intervened last week and set up a group to look at the facts and suggest a resolution to the conflict.

Abraham Razack, a council member, refused to take questions from reporters as he left the meeting.

A simmering feud between Zhang and Wong worsened after the council endorsed the appointment of several interim vice-president positions as part of the management reshuffle.

The council, in an open letter to staff, students and graduates earlier, said the appointments were made collectively “under unavoidable circumstances and for the betterment of the university”.

It said several vice-president positions had remained vacant for extended periods since Zhang became vice-chancellor in 2018 and that had caused “frequent management issues”.

The government said last week the investigation and study group would be headed by Permanent Secretary for Education Michelle Li Mei-sheung and Tim Lui Tim-leung, the chairman of the University Grants Committee.

Lee on Tuesday gave the first indication of his stance on the controversy.

He said that vacancies left unfilled for long periods and frequent staff changes in senior management roles at the city’s oldest university over the past few years were “not ideal”.

Tensions between Zhang and the council date back to last year when he was accused of misconduct and mismanagement in anonymous complaints.

Wong pledged to get to the bottom of the accusations by setting up a panel to look into the claims and Zhang was cleared of any wrongdoing in April.



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