Polytechnic chief says housing costs are a major factor Hong Kong Polytechnic University's council chairman, Sir Gordon Wu Ying-sheung, has backed the huge monthly allowance the university is paying its president, Poon Chung-kwong. But he has conceded that there is room for downward adjustment in university staff salaries. His comments followed the release last week of government audit reports on eight University Grants Committee-funded institutions. The reports revealed that local academics enjoyed higher salaries than their counterparts in Britain and the US, when taking into account the differences in cost of living and tax rates. They also pointed to the $177,000 monthly allowance enjoyed by one university president, known to be Professor Poon. Sir Gordon said yesterday part of the allowance was to top up Professor Poon's salary, which is $181,700 a month. His remaining allowance of $138,000 is given in lieu of housing benefits and leave passage. Most other university presidents are also given top-up salary. Sir Gordon said the comparisons made in the audit reports on presidents' allowances was unfair because Polytechnic University did not provide lodgings for its president while other universities did. 'They should have compared apples with apples and looked into the cost of accommodation for the other university heads,' he said. 'We thought it is more economical to give Professor Poon a monthly subsidy rather than pay for the renovation and monthly expenses of a president's lodge.' Professor Poon is living in a self-purchased flat. But in supporting the government's decision to de-link university staff salaries from the civil service pay structure, Sir Gordon agreed adjustments should be made to staff salaries. 'We need to save when the government budget for the sector is shrinking,' he said. However, Professor Poon warned that attacks on staff salaries could dampen staff morale and affect the quality of education. He said: 'Why not look at the salaries of our ministers, other government departments or organisations? They could be high, too.' In its submission to the Audit Commission, the University of Hong Kong warned that 'a narrow and clinical analysis of costs, a task properly executed by auditors, must now lead to circumstances which compromise or debase the true value' of the university. The Legislative Council's Public Accounts Committee will conduct hearings on the audit reports on Wednesday next week.