9 February 2009
High Court rules in CUHK’s favour on Judicial Review
The Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK) is pleased that the High Court has today ruled in the University’s favour and dismissed an application for judicial review of its long-standing policy of bilingualism. The Court concludes that the relevant part of the Preamble to The Chinese University of Hong Kong Ordinance about the principal language of instruction “is not mandatory but enabling, empowering or permissive in meaning or nature” and that “the power given to the Senate, subject to review by the Council, to control and direct the language of instruction, is not restricted by any legal requirement that Chinese must be or remain the principal language of instruction.”The judgment states that to construe the Ordinance and the Statutes as imposing any mandatory legal obligation “would, quite plainly, trespass on the autonomy and academic freedom of the University and its members, and thus be inconsistent with … the Basic Law.” CUHK welcomes the Court’s affirmation of the University’s autonomy and academic freedom and what they entail. The Court also holds that “the language of instruction lies at the core of institutional autonomy and academic freedom” and that “it is difficult to think of another body or group of persons [other than the Senate] who would be more suitable to be given the power and control over, among other things, the language of instruction.” The two decisions of the CUHK Senate in October 2007 in relation to the Report of the Committee on Bilingualism and the consequent establishment of the Senate Committee on Language Enhancement, which the applicant sought to overturn, are therefore valid — as the University has always contended.The University is committed to upholding its long-standing policy of bilingualism. Under Senate’s powers which have now received judicial confirmation, departments are encouraged to adopt for each course and for each teaching activity the most appropriate language based on educational grounds, and having regard to the nature of the subject concerned. This policy places benefits to students as the prime consideration and, as the Court also noted, “has an important bearing on the efforts of the University in terms of its internationalization policy … and its gaining of international standing and status.”
The University is encouraged by the Court’s clarification of the proper interpretation of the Ordinance, that the Preamble is not binding. The University will continue to pursue its bilingual aspiration and maintain a truly bilingual learning environment.