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Inaugural Hong Kong Bing Overseas Study Program cancelled amid ongoing demonstrations

Students push back against University decision

Due to unrest in Hong Kong, Stanford cancelled its inaugural study abroad program, sparking student pushback. (Wikimedia Commons)

Stanford will cancel this autumn’s inaugural Bing Overseas Seminar Program (BOSP) to Hong Kong in light of the “ongoing unrest” in the region, the University announced last week. 

Announced in an email to participating students on Tuesday, Aug. 20, the decision was made after weeks of monitoring and consideration of the political situation and ongoing protests. It is unclear if BOSP will launch the program in fall 2020. 

The decision, announced just days before the program’s scheduled start date on Monday, Aug. 26, sparked pushback from students who had planned to participate. Participants felt frustrated and confused by the late timing of the University decision, according to Kale (whose name has been changed for this article), a would-be participant of the program who asked to remain anonymous while alternative arrangements were being made.

Following a student-run petition to relaunch the program, BOSP informed students they could enroll in a study abroad program at Stanford’s regional partner, the Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK). The arrangement is not affiliated with Stanford or BOSP.

Hong Kong has been struck by demonstrations involving millions of protestors, beginning in March in protest of a proposed bill that would have allowed authorities to extradite people who are wanted in mainland China and Taiwan. The bill, having raised concerns about growing mainland control over Hong Kong, has since been suspended, but questions of autonomy and citizen’s rights have continued to fuel unrest in the city. 

Demonstrations have continued throughout the summer, with incidents such as an attack at Yeun Long MTR station which left 45 people injured in July, and travel disruptions including the cancellation of hundreds of flights from Hong Kong airport in August. China’s recent amassing of military personnel near the Hong Kong has raised concerns about the potential escalation to military force.  

“The safety and wellbeing of students are our top priorities,” wrote Adrian Doyle, BOSP’s associate director for student and academic services, to students set to go to Hong Kong. “The ongoing unrest, its effects on local services and transportation infrastructure, potential escalation of violence, and uncertainty around potential future disruption in Hong Kong have reached a point where we determined the risks to our students and to the program were too numerous at the present time to proceed.”

Doyle declined to comment to The Daily regarding BOSP’s decision.

The Hong Kong program does not focus on a specific academic discipline, but is billed as an “introduction to the complex diversity and importance of the Sinophone world.” All courses were to be taken through CUHK, with students encouraged to immerse themselves in one of the world’s leading cultural, financial and business centers. Announced in February, it would be the 12th active BOSP program and the second in Asia.

“I was drawn to the program due to my interest in studying East Asian studies in East Asia,” Kale said. “Other students were drawn to the program due to its focus on the “intersection between technology and finance.”

Prior to announcing the program’s suspension, Stanford emailed multiple updates to participants of the program, informing students of their close monitoring of the situation and warning students against involvement or comment on political tensions in the city. 

It was clear to would-be participants that the status of the program was in question when they were given the option to “withdraw without penalty” a week prior to the final cancellation, Kale said.

The decision to suspend the program comes after consulting the U.S. Department of State, reports from CUHK and updates from Stanford’s travel assistance providers International SOS and Control Risks.

Stanford is supporting students to arrange alternative arrangements for the fall, including staying on Stanford’s main campus or switching to another BOSP program.  

Contact Brooke Beyer at bbeyer ‘at’ stanford.edu.

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