Amid escalating tensions in Hong Kong, Newcastle University has made the decision to allow exchange and study abroad students to return home early, citing concerns for their safety.
The protests, which have been going on since June 2019, were initially against a law that would have allowed extradition from Hong Kong to China. However, protestors are now demanding more general democratic reform.
Hong Kong has witnessed increasingly disturbing scenes, with police criticised for using violent tactics against peaceful protestors.
Universities have been particularly badly affected, with protesting students now resorting to violent tactics themselves, including throwing petrol bombs at police.
On 18 November, police fired live rounds, as 600 student activists were trapped inside a university.
Over 3,300 protestors have been arrested since the violence began in June.
The idea of Hong Kong allowing extradition to China is controversial because of ongoing fears about increased Chinese influence in Hong Kong. Traditionally, the two have followed a principal of “one country, two systems”. This means that, although Hong Kong is technically part of China, the island city is allowed to maintain its own system of common law.
More generally, protestors claim that the ‘increase’ in Chinese influence on Hong Kong is shown by an increase in restrictions on freedom of speech. Five booksellers disappeared from the island, only to reappear in Chinese custody, and journalists have been denied entry.
In light of these events, Newcastle University has stated that students situated in Hong Kong will not see their degree classification affected, should they choose to return home, and finish their studies in Hong Kong earlier than planned. Other universities, including Warwick and Nottingham, have made year abroad students similar offers.
A Newcastle University spokesperson told the Newcastle Tab: “We currently have five undergraduate students on exchange placements in Hong Kong and one on a work placement in the region.
"We have contacted these students and all of them have been given the option to return home. Returning to the UK will not adversely impact on their studies and the students will be financially supported for the flight should they wish to return early.
“The health and wellbeing of our students and staff are always our priority. As a global university, we have a large network of teams who work closely together to support any students and staff affected by personal or world events, whether they be here in the UK or abroad.”