THE already acute manpower shortage in schools will become more serious next academic year as the Government has failed to attract graduates from mainland or Taiwanese universities to teach in Hongkong. The first non-graduate teacher qualifications assessment scheme, aimed at boosting teaching manpower by allowing people holding qualifications in non-Commonwealth countries to teach in the territory, has received a lukewarm response. The Education Department received only about 200 applications when the deadline ended last Saturday. The few applicants will mean that the 780 vacancies likely to arise from promises made by the Governor, Mr Chris Patten, in his October policy address to cut class sizes from 40 to 35 in September, cannot be filled. The department attributed the situation to its bilingual tests which might have frightened away the people who wanted to sit only for the Chinese language test and teach in Chinese schools. Other alternatives considered to fill the vacancies are encouraging retiring teachers to continue working and to allow schools to employ more part-time teachers. Circulars have been sent to schools permitting them to employ more part-time staff to teach regularly on a longer time frame, such as half-days or a few full days in a week. The department believes this will not affect the teaching quality but will attract people who have retired or who could spare only half or some of the days to work again. Among applicants signed up for the assessment, nearly 70 per cent obtained tertiary-level education from the mainland, and less than 30 per cent from Taiwan, leaving the rest from Macau and France. Half of the applicants have undergone teacher training and nearly one-third of them have taught in Hongkong. Nearly 30 per cent are aged between 20 and 29. Forty per cent are over 40 years old. Chinese is the most popular subject chosen by applicants to be tested, comprising more than a third of applications. Social studies is the next popular subject with over one-fourth of applicants. Music attracted the lowest number of applicants, with less than one per cent signing up. The department said assessment would be reviewed after the tests were held. Some educationalists have criticised the department for implementing the assessment scheme in a hurry without careful planning and consultation with the public. They feared it would bring in unqualified teachers and lower the teaching standard. Over 1,100 sets of non-graduate teacher qualifications assessment application forms were distributed since early last month. The examination, including three papers on language ability, subject knowledge, and professional knowledge and skills including teaching theory and methodology, will be held next month and in May. Results will be released in July and those who pass are expected to start work in September.