Universities face cutting entry requirements because of falling standards of English, it was claimed yesterday. With Advanced Level examinations results due out today, less than half the candidates who sat English reached the university entry grade. 'Only 40.9 per cent, or 12,000 candidates, achieved Grade D or above in English, but there are 14,500 university places,' said Examinations Authority secretary Choi Chee-cheong. 'Our system is not producing enough quality students.' A total of 30,863 candidates sat A-Level exams this year. The average pass rate - Grade E or above - was 71 per cent. However, of the 28,899 students sitting English - a mandatory exam for university entry - only 40.9 per cent achieved Grade D or above, slightly up from last year's 40.5 per cent. Mr Choi said Grade D had to be the minimum pass otherwise students would struggle to understand lectures. Former legislator for the education sector Cheung Man-kwong said universities had no choice but to lower standards if they were to fill places. 'They should face the reality that standards are getting lower and lower,' he said. This happened last year when 200 students who failed to meet the required standards were admitted to Baptist and Lingnan colleges and the University of Science and Technology. The Secretary of the Hong Kong Association for Continuing Education, Mervyn Cheung Man-ping, said it was 'well-known' in the education community that institutions were lowering language standards to fill places. He called for Executive Councillor Antony Leung Kam-chung, whose portfolio is education, to investigate. 'This is appalling, a saddening sign of falling standards,' he said. 'Sooner or later we will have to have some kind of strict enforcement as this is not only happening in English but is spreading to Chinese as well.' But Chinese University vice-chancellor Arthur Li Kwok-cheung maintained that only students meeting entry requirements would get places. He would rather leave places vacant than fill them with unqualified students, he said. The President of Lingnan College, Professor Edward Chen Kwan-yiu, said they would recruit overseas students if local applicants were unsatisfactory. The Government has expanded tertiary education in recent years with the aim of taking 18 per cent of secondary school students into universities. In 1996-97 there were 13,500 first-year, first-degree places while for 1997-98 there will be 14,500 places. But critics have warned that a lack of qualified students to fill places could see universities lowering entry requirements and admitting applicants with Grade E instead of Grade C or D in Use of English.