Undergraduates who opt for science courses will have to pay up to $20,000 more a year for tuition under a proposed university fee reform plan.
Science students are targeted because the costs of running their subjects are higher and graduates tend to earn more.
An initial idea is to charge science students up to 50 per cent more than their counterparts in the arts streams.
The move is part of a University Grants Committee (UGC) package to rationalise higher education funding from 2001 to 2004.
Heads of the eight government-funded universities are expected to meet committee officials today to discuss the fee reform.
In a letter to university heads, the UGC says the 2001-04 years should continue to be 'a period of consolidation and cost containment'. It also urges universities to look at implementing a differential tuition fee system, by levels and by broad programme categories, with effect from 2001-2004.
One option would be to charge students of 'laboratory subjects', such as medicine and physics, tuition fees that are about 50 per cent higher, which could mean a total annual cost of $61,000.
The money collected could go to fund more students in humanities courses.
A committee source said yesterday a uniform fee system was unfair to humanities students who were, in effect, subsidising their counterparts enrolled in science streams.
Up to 1974, there were differential fees.
The idea resurfaced in a 1996 University Grants Committee review that said: 'The fact that government provides 94 per cent of the cost of educating a medical student, but only 70 per cent of the cost of educating a humanities student seems to be near the limits of toleration in terms of equity, particularly when bearing in mind future earning potential.' Lo Chi-fung, a spokesman for the Hong Kong Federation of Student Unions, accused the Government last night of trying to shirk its responsibility on education.
'It seems education has become a bargain commodity. The reform does not necessarily mean those studying liberal arts will be charged less, only that those science students will have to pay more.
'And if more students are attracted to take cheaper subjects, it could also affect the supply of talent in some fields,' Mr Lo said.
An Education and Manpower Bureau spokesman said yesterday the Government had no fixed position on the issue.