Drives to cut civil service numbers have led to an increase in the average age of bureaucrats at regional government level, a study has found. Joint research by the University of Hong Kong (HKU) and Peking University traced the effectiveness of civil service reforms in the 1990s by evaluating the quality of officials in the education and environmental protection bureaus in Ningbo, in Zhejiang province; Changchun, in Jilin province; and the Haidian district in Beijing from 1998 to this year. Professor John Burns, of HKU's Department of Politics and Public Administration, said researchers who took part in the project were surprised by the preliminary findings that the bureaus they studied had, on average, older workers as a result of the two staff-cut campaigns in 1993 and 1998. Over the past decade, there was large-scale recruitment of civil servants only during 1996 and 1997, starting three years after the 1993 downsizing. Professor Burns said the 1998 civil service reform initiated by Premier Zhu Rongji had stopped the bureaus recruiting. However, only those who were close to retirement age, and newcomers, were axed. As a result, no staff had been recruited since the reforms and the number of officials aged in their 40s and 50s had increased proportionately, while the number under 35 had dropped significantly. 'In the 1990s, educational levels in many bureaus did not increase' and the average age of civil servants was higher, he said. Professor Burns said: 'I don't know how widespread it is [among other bureaus], we were surprised by these results.' He said when the project was designed it was expected to find improved quality, and younger civil servants. In 1998, Premier Zhu vowed to halve the number of officials in the 30 departments under the State Council. He ordered regional governments to set similar targets, but Professor Burns was critical of the results. 'In Haidian district, for example, the campaign has not resulted in cuts. It has basically frozen the payrolls,' he said. He said there had been no significant reduction in the number of government employees in the labour statistics published by authorities. He said if the cutbacks had been effective, it should have been reflected in payrolls. The task of providing jobs for demobilised soldiers also had hampered efforts to reduce the bureaucracy, he said. Quotas are given to govern ment bureaus at all levels to accommodate soldiers - who usually do not have required skills but are able to join the civil service because they are exempt from the entry examinations.