Some researchers, lecturers and professors at Hong Kong universities have been applying for positions at institutions in Taiwan, weary of the ongoing protests and battles with police that have now reached their workplaces.

Meanwhile, Taiwanese authorities said their nationals studying or living in Hong Kong have been safe so far and many students and youngsters had returned to the island, since lectures and classes were suspended at many tertiary institutions in the protest-weary city.

The island’s education ministry noted on Monday evening that about 600 of the 1,000-plus students enrolled in universities in Hong Kong during the current academic year had returned home.

Reports in Hong Kong media on Monday said that at least one tearful mother from Taiwan had repeatedly pleaded with a police commander at the scene not to use lethal force against her daughter and other young protesters still trapped on the campus of the Hong Kong Polytechnic University (PolyU).

The police’s riot and special duty squads continued to lay siege to the compound, with some rifle-brandishing sergeants and snipers threatening to use live rounds.

A masked protester on the PolyU campus amid a tear gas barrage by police. Photo: Facebook

In the early hours of Tuesday, about 600 people – including about 200 minors who had been on the PolyU campus for days – stopped their resistance and left the campus that stilled reeked of tear gas after principals and respected political veterans stepped in and offered to act as mediators.

It was reported that a number of non-local students from Taiwan, South Korea, Japan and Southeast Asia were among the batch of stranded people allowed to leave, after police checked their identities and reserved the right to follow-up actions, including prosecution for rioting.

A view of the Hong Kong Polytechnic University, in its calm days. Photo: Asia Times

In Taiwan, some universities say there has been a “noticeable increase” in the number of applications for positions received this month from lecturers, researchers and professors based in Hong Kong.

The operations of almost all leading universities in the former British territory have been brought to a standstill due to disruptions by radical protesters who invaded and turned campuses into strongholds and have had violent standoffs with police.

The backdrop is that apart from PolyU, other institutions that have halted classes and closed offices and labs include the Chinese University of Hong Kong, City University of Hong Kong and Hong Kong University of Science and Technology.

Taiwan’s Central News Agency reported that the National Sun Yat-sen University in the southern city of Kaohsiung had swiftly poached at least two academics from Hong Kong – a foreign professor emeritus and a Taiwanese professor – who start their new jobs early next year.

University president Cheng Ying-yao told reporters that the protracted chaos in Hong Kong had forced universities there to cut semesters short, even when the staff could not finish their studies or research as planned.

Cheng warned that institutions in Hong Kong whose campuses were occupied and had become virtual war zones could need “years” to repair damaged facilities, rebuild labs and research databases and restore reputations, amid the widespread perception that Hong Kong’s academic freedom would also be in peril in a more repressive political environment.

The Kaohsiung university is also looking to woo exchange students and visiting scholars who are concerned about their safety in Hong Kong and those who had originally planned to head for the city. It has entered preliminary deals with Western partners to receive academics.

National Taiwan University Vice-President Chou Chia-pei noted it was too early to see a big exodus of academics from Hong Kong, given the city’s fat remuneration package and research funding on offer as well as the prevalent use of English as the language of instruction.

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