ACADEMICS are to be asked to justify their research. An audit of the seven government-funded universities has been ordered to ensure student fees, which help to pay for research, are not being wasted. A new formula for funding can be expected after the review, which has been prompted by criticisms of cash being mis-allocated. Expenses on academic research, a major part of master's and doctoral degrees studies, will come under the spotlight. Critics have blamed the Government for including such expenses in the overall costs, which, under the present university fees policy, are shared by undergraduates as well. The Government has decided to charge students $37,350 for their degree courses from the next academic year to recover 16.5 per cent of the costs. And students will have to pay 18 per cent of the costs from 1997-98 when annual fees will rise to $43,100. Secretary for Education and Manpower Joseph Wong Wing-ping said yesterday the Government had asked the University Grants Committee, which advises the Government on the funding to the seven universities in Hong Kong, to conduct the review. 'The Government is subsidising the seven universities almost $10 billion this year, or one-third of the recurrent education budget. 'I think there is a need to seriously consider looking into areas where costs can be lowered . . .' Mr Wong said. At present, about 70 per cent of the funding is taken up by university staff and their fringe benefits, while research expenses account for another 25 per cent. The committee's secretary-general, Nigel French, said they had initiated discussion with universities and promised that education quality would not be compromised with the cost-containing review. Mr French said no deadline had been set for the review, but he did not expect new measures to come into effect before 1998 because funding for the coming three years had been approved. Democratic Party legislator and City University lecturer Dr John Tse Wing-ling said colleges should seek corporate sponsorship for research. He also urged the universities to streamline bureaucracy by using more computers. Mr Wong was speaking after the opening ceremony of yesterday's Education and Careers Expo, which was organised by the Labour Department and Trade Development Council. This year, more than 180 local and overseas exhibitors have taken part and organisers are expecting 180,000 visitors to the four-day event at the Convention and Exhibition Centre.