Thousands of students from CUHK and HKUST joined a three-day signature campaign this week to condemn the education chief for what they claim is interfering with university autonomy. HKUST students' reaction has been much stronger than that of their counterparts at CUHK. The HKUST Students' Union, representing the university's 7,400 students, collected more than 3,000 signatures in the campaign, begun after Professor Li announced his matchmake intentions. CUHK campaigners collected 1,463 signatures from the 15,111 students. Henry Kwok Ho-lam, a journalism student at CUHK, said the campaign was 'meaningless'. 'Rather than blaming Professor Li for intervening in university autonomy, the union should encourage students to take part in more constructive debates on the pros and cons of the merger proposal,' the second-year said. A merger could put the two universities in a better bargaining position for funding, while CUHK could also benefit from HKUST's sophisticated research hardware, he added. But a survey of HKUST and CUHK students by the Hong Kong Youth and Tertiary Students Association this week recorded more than 50 per cent of those polled at HKUST saying the merger would not raise the standard of the universities. Only 37 per cent of the CUHK students asked held the same opinion. Dr Edmund Chiang Yik-man, assistant professor of mathematics and a member of HKUST's educational development programme, said that the results could be explained partly by the vast difference between the sizes of the two universities. 'Many of our students see the merger as HKUST being 'swallowed' by the much bigger CUHK,' he said. The compact campus design of HKUST, which facilitated communication between students and staff from all faculties, helped students build a closer community than their counterparts in the sprawling CUHK campus,' said Dr Chiang. Both student unions said that Professor Li had turned down their invitations to a student forum originally set for this week. 'We are disappointed. Professor Li should explain to us what the merger plan is about,' said Hung Pui-chuen, a committee member of the CUHK union.