Disclaimer: Like everyone else, Wessex Scene is deeply concerned and saddened by the violent escalation of protests in Hong Kong. Safety comes first, and whilst we are glad that students on exchange are now safe from harm, our thoughts and prayers are with all victims of this protest and their families.
After a summer of increasingly volatile protests against the Government in Hong Kong, several universities in the country have become a location for protests and subsequently have become besieged. To ensure the safety of their students, universities all over the country have cancelled their classes, closed down and encouraged students to stay away from campus for their own protection. Amongst the wave of Hong Kong university closures are three institutions that are exchange partners with the University of Southampton as part of their Year Abroad programme: the Chinese University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong University and Lingnan University.
Subsequently, on 14th November, a University spokesperson formally announced that all University of Southampton students would not be returning to any of the Hong Kong universities next semester due to ‘the ongoing risk posed by action in the region’.
To many students on the Study Abroad programme, this was not a shock. After all, many partner universities in both the UK and further afield were taking similar action, demanding that their students come home immediately. For students in Southampton, however, there is reportedly a widespread feeling of disappointment at the University’s ‘massive lack of forethought’ in this situation.
One University of Southampton student who was in exchange in Hong Kong has reached out to Wessex Scene to express their concerns, alleging that despite the ongoing civil unrest, ‘Southampton [University] has been significantly less involved with us as students [in comparison to other UK universities]’.
Although the University in their statement have promised ‘to ensure that no student suffers academic detriment as a result of this action’, the student, who wishes to remain anonymous, has suggested that there was no tangible back-up plan put in place by the University, which has left them ‘scrambling and trying to make calls to other universities that might accept us, well past after most deadlines’.
This student has provided Wessex Scene with an email (pictured below) they received from the University following their decision to pull the program. The deadline for two of the students’ alternative university choices for next semester (names redacted) is quoted as being ‘today’: the same day they sent the email announcing to students that the programme in Hong Kong has officially been pulled. The email also notes that the University’s International Office are still in the process of ‘contacting other partner universities to see if there are any other places available’. A list of partner universities accepting applications from repatriated students was also circulated in this email, but the addressor suggests that this list is only ‘for now’, and that other partner universities may well accept applications further down the line.
‘[T]hey are making us decide on where we want to spend the next six months before the list is even complete’, alleges the student.
‘There might be more opportunities coming but there also may not, and if we wait we may not be able to go anywhere.’
The student has also provided Wessex Scene with the list given to them by the University of potential partner universities they can apply to:
Four of the listed universities have their nomination deadline set as ‘ASAP’, whilst another set their deadline for 15th November – a day after the Hong Kong programme was officially pulled. Whilst two of the other listed Universities have a nomination deadline of 18th November (four days after the email was circulated), the latest nomination deadline in this list is cited as 23rd November: just over a week after it was confirmed that students could not return to Hong Kong.
Although the University has emphasised in their statement that they are ‘committed to ensuring the safety and well-being of our students’, this student has claimed that they are ‘not alone in feeling upset by the actions (or lack thereof) of the University’.
The anonymous student concluded their allegation by suggesting that the University ‘reconsider their priorities in the future’, and added that:
I understand that our safety is their priority, but in not having a back-up plan they’ve put our education at risk. Southampton didn’t prepare for this and we are suffering the consequences.
A University of Southampton Spokesman has said:
In light of the closure of the Chinese University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong University and Lingnan University, and the ongoing risk posed by action in the region, we have proactively worked to repatriate all of our students in Hong Kong on placements, exchange or study abroad programmes.
We are committed to ensuring the safety and well-being of our students and will cover the costs of their return to the UK. We will remain in close contact with the affected students and will ensure that they do not suffer academic detriment as a result of this action.
NB: Wessex Scene and SUSU have not adopted a stance on the allegations against the University, and remain impartial. However, if you have any concerns please visit the Advice Centre on the top floor of Building 40 on Highfield Campus.