University Emergency Response Group (ERG) made an announcement on 8 February to strongly encourage all residents in hostels to vacate this weekend (12-13 February) unless they have compelling reasons to stay. With different colleges proposing different arrangements, the deadlines for the applications appealing residence extensions for certain colleges have passed. In an email yesterday afternoon (11 February), Pro-Vice-Chancellor Nick Rawlins responded to the hostel policies, citing examples that would constitute valid reasons for students to continue staying in residential halls: “those with no residence in the city, or a home environment providing only conditions incompatible with online study.” Additionally, should residents stay out late, they would have to justify, with legitimate reasons, in alignment with the rule that all residents are expected to live only in hostels at all times. The deadline for vacating hostels remains unchanged; to avoid overcrowding and overloading college staff with large numbers of simultaneous departures, residents are encouraged to coordinate their checkout times with their respective halls.

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Student with the petition letter

Yesterday (11 February), residents dissatisfied with the vacation policy presented their “CUHK Student Residents Opposing Mandatory Vacation” petition letter to the ERG at the Gate of Wisdom. The four requests stated are as follows: 1) Allowing residents to choose whether to stay or vacation the halls as they deem fit, 2) Extension of the vacation deadline to grant residents more time to respond, 3) Removal of curfew, to roll out a policy with more versatility and lastly, 4) Promise to relax current anti-pandemic regulations when the COVID-19 situation improves.

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Students heading to University Administration Building

The security guards were alerted to the scene, and held phones to photograph students. Repeated announcements were made, expressing loudly that the students could have violated gathering restrictions. The Director of the Communications and Public Relations Office, Lavender Cheung as well as the Director of the Office of Student Affairs, Agnes Ho, were both present.

Students stood in front of the Gate of Wisdom, requesting that a representative from the ERG come forth to receive the petition letter. They stated, “We hope to pressure the ERG today. All of us don’t actually know who the group (ERG) comprises, yet all along they have had great power in their hands. Whatever policies they roll out, everyone has to just follow, so we hope to express our dissatisfaction here today.” Following the message, students clapped in support. 

After a student resident read out the letter, some students were displeased with the fact that the ERG representative, Lavender Cheung, was standing by the University Administration Building and reluctant to get any physically closer to the students. They felt that she should face the students and step forth to receive the letter. Subsequently, the situation largely came to a truce as voices were raised. 

After a student representative communicated with the University, claiming that even before the dissolution of the Student Union, petition letters would be delivered inside the University Administration Building. This time, the University representative has already expressed sincerity by receiving the letter outside the building.

As it was getting to 5pm, which is the end of office hours, students moved towards the entrance of the University Administration Building to deliver the petition letter, calling for the University to welcome public dialogue. Lavender Cheung merely responded by saying, “Everyone’s opinions have been understood, (we) have passed it on to the ERG” before turning to leave without responding to the concerns raised by students.

Residents indicated, “It is difficult to accept such a lack of communication from the University, (we) request for a conversation with the University”. Students from Macau also stated, “The government of Macau announced that the quarantine hotels are fully booked until 30 March. CUHK promotes itself as a multicultural place but now with the curfew and other policies, it is turning into a prison. Why is the University unwilling to respond to our demands?”

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Security guards taking pictures on students

A joint meeting with residents, residential student associations and college student unions was suggested for the collective organisation of appeals and requests alongside the calling for a meeting with the University. Students soon dispersed, afterwhich, a couple of police cars were found to be stationed outside the University Administrative Building. It was alleged that a call to the police was made by students.

After the petitioners left , several police cars were parked outside the Administration Building, and allegedly some students called the police.

Full article of the petition letter:

CUHK Emergency Response Group,

The Administration issued an “important announcement” on 8 February (Tue), which “strongly encourages all resident students to return home and vacate their hostels if practicable”. Those who fail to check out by 13 February (Sun) may have their hostel fees not reimbursed. Subsequently, some colleges even announced the closure of their hostels. In the face of such sudden policy changes, we, as hostel residents of CUHK, are greatly discontented.

In view of the worsening pandemic situation, we understand the University’s need to strengthen anti-epidemic measures. However, without consulting the opinions of various stakeholders, the Administration abruptly decided to demand most resident students to check out their hostels. This is not only counterproductive to the anti-epidemic efforts, but also detrimental to the rights and interests of hostel residents.

Firstly, the Administration demanded students who wish to stay resident to provide a “compelling reason”, otherwise their application will be rejected. For example, some students are required by their College to provide medical certificates (such as a diagnosis of mental health issues). However, while every student has their own reasonable and legitimate reasons for choosing to reside in a hostel, very often these reasons can hardly be proven by specific documents, revealing the harshness and impracticality of the Administration’s demand. Some students live in a hostel since their undesirable home environment, such as poor relationship with family members and overcrowdedness, is unsuitable for continuing their study. There are also students who live in a hostel in order to better focus on their study. Even for those who suffer from mental health issues, they may not be diagnosed with a specific disorder. Now that hostel residents are permitted to stay resident only if they manage to provide a so-called “compelling reason”, this is not only insensible, but also against one of the very purposes of providing hostel places to students – offering them a better learning environment.

Moreover, since most non-local students do not have any other local residence, demanding them to vacate their hostels means rendering them homeless in Hong Kong. They would have no choice but to return to their place of origin, which would create immense inconvenience (for instance, the time spent on traveling and quarantine), and may even expose them to a more severe pandemic situation in their place of origin. Although flexible arrangements are presently implemented by some Colleges to allow most non-local students to stay resident, the information confusion of the University’s policies has already caused panic and anxiety amongst the students.

Secondly, even if resident students intend to vacate their hostel, it is still unrealistic to set the deadline as the upcoming weekend (13 February).
Residents may have accumulated a large amount of personal belongings in their rooms over the course of their nearly five mouth of residency, and they also need to

It is very possible that residents have accumulated large amounts of possessions in their hostels over the past five months. A window of four to five days is undoubtedly insufficient for residents to pack their belongings, clean up and check out. Forcing all residents to return to their hostels in a few days to pack up would also create risks of spreading the disease, which is the exact opposite of what the University claims to avoid. Since the rooms are not being redistributed even after residents have checked out, residents should be allowed to leave their possessions in their rooms as they wish, and we see no need for the University to order residents to clear the room.

While there has recently been an outbreak of the pandemic in local communities, the campus has been safe apart from an insignificant number of cases. In fact, as classes are conducted online under the University’s recent policy, a fraction of hostel residents are leaving, naturally decreasing the number of students in hostels and lowering chances of gatherings. On top of that, hostel residents have been taking precautions against the pandemic, such as wearing a mask, testing for the disease regularly or getting vaccinated, and following other necessary rules. Therefore, allowing hostel residents to decide whether to check out or not is the best way to safeguard students’ health. Moreover, banning residents from staying elsewhere overnight is unfeasible for the considerable fraction of students who have to work or attend classes at night. We believe that hostel residents will avoid taking unnecessary health risks and do not need the University to enforce a policy comparable to curfew.

Based on the above mentioned reasons, we demand the Administration to:

1. Allow hostel residents to decide whether they will vacate from their hostels or not;
2. Postpone the deadline for hostel checkout to provide sufficient time to students with such intention;
3. Lift the “curfew” on staying residents and handle them with flexible arrangements;
4. Promise to relax the current anti-epidemic regulations once the pandemic situation is improved.

Hong Kong is facing a territory-wide outbreak of Covid-19. In comparison, CUHK has not been affected as much. Given that the University has already implemented a full online learning mode, there will be no need for being at school for face to face lessons. As such,  we would like to invite the University to receive a letter from students on Feb 11 (Fri), 4pm outside the University Administration Building, and to have open dialogue.

A group of helpless and anxious CUHK hostel residents.


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