Arthur Li denies breaking promise

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 20 November, 2003, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 20 November, 2003, 12:00am

Big winner was not me but students' rational thinking, says education chief

Hong Kong's education chief yesterday denied breaking a promise made to student leaders at the weekend when they dropped their plan to boycott classes this week.

Arthur Li Kwok-cheung maintained he had not wooed the leaders into abandoning their boycott during five hours of talks on Sunday.

'The big winner in the meeting was not me, but rather students' rational thinking,' the secretary for education and manpower told a meeting with 1,000 students and staff at City University yesterday.

The meeting was held after student leaders questioned whether Professor Li was sticking to his pledges, particularly over funding for associate degree programmes, made at the earlier meeting with around 20 student representatives from various institutions.

They became concerned following the tough stance taken against these programmes by Professor Li at a Legislative Council meeting on Monday.

Listing the six areas of general agreement reached at Sunday's meeting, Professor Li maintained money saved from the funding withdrawal for associate degree programmes would be used as grants and loans for students. But he denied he had promised to consider spreading the funding cuts over a longer period, as claimed by the students.

City University will have 75 per cent of its funding for sub-degree programmes withdrawn over the next four years, compared with a 25 per cent cut at Polytechnic University.

'The timetable for funding withdrawal was agreed upon between a special working group under the University Grants Committee and the universities. It will be an undue policy change if we overturn the timetable now,' Professor Li said. 'A policy cannot be changed ... by an ordinary official like me,' he said to boos from the audience.

Many students accused the government of wasting taxpayers' money on other projects and then introducing education cuts. One asked Professor Li to cut his own salary before adopting the cuts.

To applause from the floor, student representative Sam Leung said the funding withdrawal would destroy City University's outstanding efforts in the past two decades in building up its sub-degree programmes. Others called on Professor Li to reveal his plan for higher education development in light of the university funding cuts.

Professor Li said he would seek to reach an agreement on the education budget reduction with Financial Secretary Henry Tang Ying-yen before January.

But City University Student Union president Kenny Tsang Ka-yin said he was frustrated that Professor Li had sidestepped questions raised at the forum. He did not rule out further protests against funding cuts.