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February 22nd, 2008:

Bad Air Blamed For Difficulty Attracting Academics

Bad Air, Weak Dollar Blamed For Difficulty Attracting Academics

Will Clem – SCMP
Feb 22, 2008

Pollution and a weak Hong Kong dollar due to the peg to the US currency are making it difficult for local universities to attract British and European academics, Chinese University’s vice-chancellor said yesterday. Speaking at a spring media reception, Lawrence Lau Juen-yee said the exchange rate had weakened Hong Kong’s purchasing power on the careers market when all eight publicly funded tertiary institutions were recruiting in preparation for the switch to a four-year degree in 2012.

“If we want to hire someone from Britain, then it is a lot harder now than it was five years ago,” Professor Lau said.

“The US dollar is falling and we are stuck to it. It seems there is no benefit to us in that.”

In February 2003, the British pound was worth about HK$12.30 compared with its current rate of HK$15.17.

“These academics will not be planning to spend the rest of their lives in Hong Kong,” Professor Lau said. “They often have a mortgage in Britain they will need to pay for, and will be thinking about planning for their retirement.”

However, he said pay was not the only concern.

“Things like pollution also have an effect,” he said. “A lot of candidates ask us about the air quality here.”

Professor Lau also added his weight to University of Hong Kong vice-chancellor Tsui Lap-chee’s call last week for the government to establish an endowment fund to provide more research funding.

Professor Tsui had said the lack of research opportunities made the city less attractive to top international academics.

Chinese University needs to hire about 400 lecturers and professors over the next four years to keep up with general staff turnover and to meet the teaching requirements for the new degree structure, which will see its undergraduate population increase by a third.