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'Hike Fees for Costly University Subjects'

Vice-Chancellor of Lingnan University Edward Chen said universities should adjust tuition fees according to specific disciplines, with students paying higher fees for more costly subjects.

Chen said the measure would boost the government's income, and help alleviate pressures to cut high education spending.

"This is to more or less remove part of the onus on the government in subsidizing tertiary education.

When medicine and engineering students are paying the same fees as other students studying less expensive courses, it can hardly be fair, he said.

He added that if the education budget is further reduced, the territory's teaching staff are likely to relocate to countries with higher salary levels, and it will be more difficult for local institutions to hire staff from overseas.

University students are paying an annual HK$4,2100 tuition fee or 18 per cent of the cost, irrespective of the subjects they study.

In another development, Ng Ching-fai, vice-chancellor of the Baptist University, said if the government decides to cut education funding in the next five years, there could be pressure on tertiary institutes to increase tuition fees.

He warned that certain faculties will also have to be closed down and this could compromise the quality of education services offered as some academics may seek better job offers.

Ng made the statement yesterday during an open forum held on campus to discuss education funding cut issues with the students.

Ng told the forum it would be virtually impossible for the university to absorb further budget cuts, while it may have to suspend certain disciplines to control costs, which would compromise the quality of education and academic staff.

He said the territory will lose its academic talent if the government cuts university funding any further, while two Baptist professors have been approached by institutions in Singapore for possible recruitment.

"Education budget cuts in recent years have put a strain on the university, and since the government proposed an 11 per cent reduction, universities are expected to obtain extra funding through sponsorship," he explained. "I don't expect our attempts in this area to be successful unless sponsorship of local universities becomes a cultural norm".

Hong Kong's Financial Secretary Henry Tang reiterated yesterday that education funding cuts for 2004-05 will be similar to 2003-04.

"On how the funding will be allocated, Mr Li (Secretary for Education and Manpower Arthur Li) will make a prudent decision," Tang said.

Earlier, the secretary said that he would consult with Tang on the possibility of minimizing education funding cuts in the next five years.

Li stressed the common understanding that the quality of education should not be compromised.

Li took the time to meet with students openly on Wednesday after he had been accused of reneging on a series of promises he had made when he met with tertiary student representatives at the Central Government Offices (CGO) of the Hong Kong government on Sunday.

(China Daily HK Edition November 21, 2003)

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