MORE than 400 lecturers from the seven local tertiary institutions resigned last year, taking the turnover into double-digits and a four-year high. Academics warned that more would go in the run-up to 1997. Reduced guarantees on retirement benefits caused by new laws on provident funds could also be a factor for those leaving. The overall turnover rate for the seven public tertiary institutions rose from seven per cent in 1991-92 to 10 per cent last academic year, representing 235 and 422 lecturers leaving in the two years respectively. The Chinese University and City University had the highest turnover rate of 14 per cent last year - 112 and 96 respectively. An analyst who has served the tertiary sector for 20 years said the City University's alignment of overseas and local staff benefits and an attempt to transfer less qualified lecturers to teach sub-degree courses with lower pay could be reasons for the high percentage. For the Chinese University, completion of contract was a major reason. While the Hong Kong University had only a five per cent turnover rate last year, 40 academics left, compared with just six in 1991-92. Some academics believe that even more expatriates at the university, which has a comparatively higher proportion of overseas staff, would choose to leave before 1997. Surveys at the Polytechnic University show that emigration, retirement and completion of contracts are the main reasons for staff leaving. Dr Chan Che-wai, the vice-chairman of the Joint University Staff Associations' working group on retirement schemes and the Hong Kong University staff association, said that he expected the exodus to increase. He said that the new Occupational Retirement Schemes Ordinance, which required all schemes to register under stringent conditions, had reduced the guarantees for university staff retirement benefits. Two universities have revised their retirement schemes to meet the legal requirement, placing the investment risk on staff. A joint scheme of a similar nature for new staff of the seven institutions is being proposed. 'Existing staff may seek early retirement in light of the changes and uncertainties. 'Others may prefer not to serve long by joining as contract staff. High turnover will do no good to tertiary education,' Dr Chan said. But secretary-general of the University Grants Committee, Nigel French, did not think the rate was worrying. 'The trend is not particularly surprising or worrying. It is a fact of life in all professions and businesses in Hong Kong in the run-up to 1997,' he said.