School funding to be slashed by up to 13pc
Educators say the figures, contained in a leaked letter, have come out of the blue
The government plans to cut school funding by between 6 and 13 per cent in the next financial year, a letter leaked to the South China Morning Post has revealed.
In the letter, the Education and Manpower Bureau (EMB) told the English Schools Foundation (ESF) it must shoulder cuts of 6.44 per cent in 2004-05, which it said was at the 'low end' of the spectrum of cuts for the schools sector.
Educators said they were surprised by the figures and that sector budgets had been finalised.
'The 6 to 13 per cent [figures] are new to me. I am surprised the government has a final conclusion about cutting in the future,' said Cheung Man-kwong, president of the Professional Teachers' Union and a legislator representing the education sector. The EMB, he said, was understood to be still negotiating the budget for next year with the financial secretary.
In the letter to John Bohan, acting ESF chief executive, the bureau said there would be cut 'for all school bodies under our subvention' of 3 per cent for the final quarter of this financial year.
'For the 2004-05 financial year, the cumulative savings required would be around 10 per cent overall, and in terms of implications for specific sectors, would range from a low end of some 6 per cent to a high end of 13 per cent, with the latter range being applicable to most operationally autonomous subvented bodies,' wrote Cherry Tse Ling Kit-ching, deputy secretary for education and manpower.
The reduction for the ESF had been set at the 'lowest end' of the range, 'to help the ESF management with some breathing space for preparing for more challenging tasks ahead' and in preparation for deeper cuts that may lie down the road. The ESF is described as one of the 'operationally autonomous subvented bodies', which also include the Vocational Training Council and universities.
Mr Cheung called on the government to clarify the funding formula for different sectors, saying that Direct Subsidy Scheme schools were also 'operationally autonomous'. Funding for all subvented schools, including the ESF, should be based on the costs per student. An EMB spokesman said the cuts for the ESF for the next year were no harsher than for other schools, but that future cuts would depend on the outcome of an ongoing review of the ESF's finances.
A spokeswoman later clarified that individual public sector schools would not face an across-the-board cut. Instead, savings would be made across the sector. Funding for DSS schools would still be based on the average, per student, amount the government paid to aided schools. 'But the average cost will reflect the savings for the aided sector,' she said.
Anissa Chan Wong Lai-kuen, chairwoman of the Subsidised Secondary Schools Council, said her organisation had not been consulted about cuts. 'We are expecting to shoulder a bit of the budget cut. But there has not been further consultation. This is out of the blue.'