Mr Tung earmarked more than $6 billion to improve the quality of education and promised spending would continue to rise over the next decade. Teaching professionals welcomed the news, saying it showed the Government was determined to upgrade human capital despite the economic downturn. A total of $5 billion will be set aside to subsidise people who want to continue their education and for training programmes. Starting from next year, the Government will ease the workload of secondary school teachers by providing an extra $200 million a year for teaching and administration assistants. Each public sector secondary school now receives $300,000 for this purpose; this will be increased to $450,000 from next year. The amount given to each primary school will remain at $550,000 a year. About $400 million will be spent on extending the native English-speaking teachers scheme to all 800 primary schools over the next two or three years. Mr Tung said the Government also would raise subsidy levels for kindergartens in the next school year. If a kindergarten employs only qualified teachers, it will receive a subsidy of $62,600, compared with the present $41,000. 'Regardless of the economic situation in the next few years, spending on education will continue to increase in the next five to 10 years,' Mr Tung said. City University president Professor Chang Hsin-kang said: 'It's particularly important to nurture more talent in time of economic difficulties.' Every primary school will be allowed to employ a counselling teacher and curriculum officer next year, costing $520 million a year. Cheung Man-kwong, the legislator who represents the education constituency, praised the Government for heeding calls to ease teachers' workloads but criticised it for refusing to reduce class sizes. Associate dean at the faculty of education at the University of Hong Kong, Cheung Kwok-wah, said the Government had made the right decision to spend more on primary education. Meanwhile, the Chief Executive said switching undergraduate programmes from three to four years could be achieved within 10 years if a consensus could be reached quickly. 'Four-year university degrees are an international norm,' he said. 'Extending the duration requires significant additional resources but we believe that the community and the Government together are capable of bearing the cost.' A working group under the Education Commission is due to submit a report on reforming higher education and senior secondary education by the end of the year. Professor Cheng Kai-ming, pro-vice-chancellor at the University of Hong Kong and a commission member, said: 'Although Mr Tung's tune is unnecessarily evasive and subtle, his remarks can be seen as an endorsement of the four-year system.' A $5 billion fund will be set up to sponsor students pursuing lifelong education and job-related training programmes. The chairman of the Federation for Continuing Education Tertiary Institutions, Charles Wong Kit-hung, said: 'It's a breakthrough. It's the first time subsidies are being given to students for lifelong education. 'I believe students who successfully complete a certain course should be reimbursed with the subsidy.'