Secretary for Education Fanny Law Fan Chiu-fun's idea of channelling unemployed middle-class people into teaching will only work if more incentives and teacher training places are offered, according to some tertiary educators. One senior academic argued that the current economic crisis had driven many university graduates to choose teaching because they considered it a more secure career, resulting in the supply of teachers outstripping demand. Starting salaries were too low to lure jobless professionals into teaching and pre-service teacher training schemes were unable to cope with demand, the educators said. The comments came after Mrs Law suggested that unemployed middle-class people could consider taking up teaching. Dr Lai Kwok-chan, head of planning and academic implementation at the Hong Kong Institute of Education, said the quality of local teachers could be boosted if laid-off professionals were required to go through teacher training before working in schools. 'The majority of primary and secondary school teachers in Hong Kong have not received any professional training. This is not in line with international trends,' he said. Education Department figures show that more than 50 per cent of this year's newly-recruited secondary school teachers have no professional training, while 189 out of 350 English secondary school teachers recruited last year were not trained. However, it would be unlikely that laid-off professionals would consider teaching as the job's starting salary was only about $17,000, Dr Lai said. 'The existing salary point scale should be redesigned to take into account some non-teaching experience,' he said. Financial subsidies should also be offered to encourage professionals from other fields to enrol in pre-service teacher training. Professor Ma Hing-keung, head of the Department of Education Studies at Hong Kong Baptist University, said that schools usually received hundreds of applications responding to job advertisements. 'The Asian economic crisis has driven many university graduates to choose teaching because they consider it a more secure career, resulting in a situation where the supply of teachers is more than demand,' he said. Professor Ma expected the number of vacancies to keep falling amid the current widespread unemployment in the SAR. Lam Chi-chung, associate professor of the Department of Curriculum and Instruction at the Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK), said that some of this year's CUHK diploma in education graduates had to wait three months to secure teaching posts, while others had resorted to becoming teaching assistants. The number of pre-service teacher training places should also be increased if the education chief's proposal was to be realised, said Dr Lai. This year, only 14 per cent of the 1,936 applicants to the full-time postgraduate diploma programme in education at CUHK were admitted. The admission rate to a similar programme offered by University of Hong Kong was 25 per cent. Professor Ma said that Baptist University would consider offering schemes tailored to the needs of mature teachers if there was a significant number of applicants.