Every final-year university student will be allowed to claim a subsidy of more than $1,000 to take a popular English test run jointly by Cambridge University and the British Council in Hong Kong, under a scheme announced yesterday. Permanent Secretary for Education and Manpower Fanny Law Fan Chiu-fun said each such student could be subsidised to take the test once. The scheme is expected to start next academic year. Mrs Law did not mention by name the International English Language Testing System, but this is the only standard English test run by Cambridge University that is widely accepted by universities and graduate schools around the world. About 14,500 university students graduate each year in Hong Kong. 'I have discussed this scheme with the business sector and everyone I talked to welcomed it,' Mrs Law said after attending an education promotion in Tsim Sha Tsui. 'Many students also told us they like the idea because their performance can be fairly compared with students from other countries.' A total of 4,265 people in Hong Kong took the voluntary English test last year compared to 3,393 in 2000. The test is jointly administered by the University of Cambridge Local Examinations Syndicate, the British Council and Education Australia. The test costs more than $1,000 and in recent years has gained popularity to rival the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL), because it has gained wide recognition among universities in Europe and Australia. It is understood people taking TOEFL will not be subsidised because the University Grants Committee, which will run the subsidy scheme, said it would only pay for one standard English test. A grants committee spokesman said details about the subsidy scheme would be announced at the end of this month. A budget of up to $20 million will be set up to finance the scheme. 'We won't force students to take the test - it will be up to them. However, we will have enough money to fund every graduating student,' he said. Since last year, Australian universities have accepted only the International English Language Testing System as proof of students' English proficiency, but many North American universities continue to favour TOEFL. The popularity of TOEFL in Hong Kong has fallen by about two thirds over the past 10 years to 9,600 candidates in 2000/2001.