University heads yesterday unveiled a sweeping package of proposed education reforms - and said they would be prepared to cut existing university places to realise their ambitions. They argued the economic downturn and a tight budget should not be used to block the plans for radical reform in the education system including the shortening of matriculation programmes to one year and the scrapping of A-level exams. Critics accused the university heads, whose proposals were yesterday made public for a two-month public consultation, of being irresponsible and sacrificing secondary education to strengthen courses at tertiary education institutions. Education Convergence vice-chairman Ho Hon-kuen said: 'They just care about their own spending. They are setting goals for secondary schools. 'Matriculation will become a subdivision under the institutes. They should have conducted a careful study. But now they just announced the proposal in a great hurry and try to mislead the public that this is the mainstream idea.' The Heads of Universities Committee, which drew up the proposals, comprises heads of the eight government-funded universities and colleges. Under the proposals, students would attend five years of secondary school, one year of matriculation and four years' tertiary education. About two-thirds of university places would be allocated according to Hong Kong Certificate of Education Examination results. The remaining third would be allocated according to students' internal school performance, principals' recommendations and interviews. Students would have to pass four core and three non-core subjects at HKCEE. Core subjects include Chinese, English, mathematics and information technology/skills. President of Lingnan College Edward Chen Kwan-yiu said: 'This is to broaden the secondary school curriculum. The existing system suffers from over-specialisation at too early a stage.' Professor Chen appealed for government support after Executive Councillor and Education Commission chairman Antony Leung Kam-chung said on Monday that careful examination of the proposals was needed since the changes would incur huge costs. 'We believe money is not a problem. Education is a long-term investment with the highest reward. The Government has spent little in education with just over three per cent of GDP going towards it,' he said. Institutes have yet to work out extra costs involved in the change. The Government spends about $2.5 billion a year to fund 14,000 tertiary places.