Funding for Hong Kong's eight universities is expected to be slashed by as much $337 million, or 2.8 per cent, in the 2004 to 2005 academic year, the president of Baptist University revealed yesterday. Ng Ching-fai said the University Grants Committee had recently informed the heads of the universities that funding for 2004-05 would be cut by $217 million to $337 million - the equivalent of between 1.8 per cent and 2.8 per cent. Mr Ng, speaking in his capacity as convenor of the Heads Of Universities Committee, said he was worried that the cut might ultimately be even bigger, in view of the government's huge budget deficit. Last year the government reduced funding for the eight tertiary institutions by $1.9 billion, or four per cent, to $36.2 billion over the next three years - 2001 to the 2004 academic year. Normally funding is allocated for three academic years but due to an extensive review of higher education, the grant has been extended for one year. This means that the government is now working out funding for the 2004 to 2005 academic year. Mr Ng said he would hold talks soon with Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa to reflect his worries that further cuts in the grant would affect the future of university education in Hong Kong. Mr Ng said he believed most universities were facing a deficit because of losses on investments. The last funding cut forced some universities to endorse a voluntary retirement scheme for academic and administrative staff as well as draw up plans to reduce salaries as a way to reduce costs. Lingnan University has warned that it may cut staff salaries by three or four per cent next year to make up the deficit caused by the government funding cuts. City University has offered voluntary redundancy to its academic staff.