The Hong Kong Institute of Education has defended its plan to force up to 40 of its staff to accept compulsory retirement, despite bitter opposition from lecturers and teaching unions. Today, the Professional Teachers' Union (PTU) will hold a general meeting for members who teach at the HKIEd. It is collaborating with the institute's Association of Lecturers, whose chairman, Kenneth Volk, stepped down at an association meeting this week amid growing controversy over the move. The association has passed a unanimous vote of no confidence in the management. 'There is no stepping back from this. The HKIEd would not have a future if we caved in to the PTU demands to stop it, or if we accepted the union vote requesting management to resign,' said Paul Morris, HKIEd deputy director. But he said management had erred in the way staff were initially told to stop teaching after they received letters selecting them for the Management Initiated Retirement Scheme, causing some lectures to be cancelled last month. The decision was reversed the next day. 'The motive was that when staff were told, of course it was going to be upsetting. Because no final decisions had been made, it was thought they could be relieved of teaching to prepare their challenges,' Professor Morris said. The PTU has described the redundancies as the 'darkest moments' in the HKIEd's history, and the way teachers were informed as a 'white terror'. President Cheung Man-kwong said the PTU would discuss possible next moves with staff at today's meeting. 'We will fight for a mechanism so that no employees who had performed well should be unreasonably dismissed,' he said. He also feared a precedent being set. 'Instead of having this redundancy plan carried out voluntarily they made it mandatory. We are concerned that this could become a precedent for other tertiary institutions,' he said. The HKIEd Students' Union supports the retirement scheme, but its president, second-year student Shek Sung-hei, agreed that the college should have outlined the criteria used to select those dismissed and spoken to them in advance. He warned, however, that students would oppose any drastic staff action. Professor Morris insisted that the retirement scheme was vital to ensure that the institute could fulfil a new role providing graduate-level teacher education. 'The policy for a graduate, all-trained teaching profession and massive reforms of the curriculum require the institute, the main provider of teachers, to change itself,' he said. 'As we go from sub-degree to degree programmes it would be irresponsible if we did not have staff in the areas we needed them. 'We have now got to continue to explain why we are doing this . . . get on and finish it, and then build for the future.' The institute, he said, had to upgrade quickly to meet government policy that all new school teachers had to be graduates by 2005. Other new universities could upgrade more gradually, because their graduates were not linked so directly to a particular vocation. He rebutted union arguments that it was wrong to dismiss lecturers for want of appropriate qualifications after approving and providing financial support for their higher degree studies. 'To suggest that such support guarantees future employment or that the study is worthless if a staff member is made redundant is incorrect and reflects a very narrow view of education,' he said. HKIEd's Association of Lecturers vice-president Derek Sankey said the association was waiting for the HKIEd to reply to its request for a thorough review of its decision-making procedures. Mr Sankey dismissed the institute's defence of the redundancies. 'They are deflecting away from the fact that they handled it badly,' he said. Staff selected for the scheme have been offered access to their pension plans, with payments of up to $45,000 a month for those in senior positions. They will also get an ex-gratia payment of at least seven months' salary, and money from superannuation funds. Most were lecturers at the former colleges of education combined in 1994 to create the HKIEd. If their retirement is confirmed, they can choose to leave immediately or by the end of the academic year.