Education panel says spending cut opposes an official pledge to give 60pc of school-leavers access to higher education Legislators passed a motion at a special education panel meeting yesterday urging the government to continue to fund associate degree programmes at City University and Polytechnic University. The two universities are the major providers of government-funded sub-degree programmes for secondary school leavers. But the government decided recently to cut funding for 13 of the 19 programmes at City University and a third of those at Polytechnic University, in line with a recommendation by the government-commissioned review of higher education released last year. About 150 jobs at City University are at stake as a result of the cut. At yesterday's meeting, legislators said the funding withdrawal contradicted Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa's pledge to ensure 60 per cent of school leavers had access to tertiary education by 2010. They also raised concerns about the quality of courses being operated on a self-financing basis. Norman Leung Nai-pang, chairman of the City University council, urged the government to at least maintain funding for two-thirds of the programmes at the institution, in line with the level of support given to Polytechnic University. He also asked for land and financial support to help with City University's plan to build a community college specialising in associate degree programmes. 'Our council has set up a working group looking into the future of the affected courses, but money is always the key,' he added. About 50 City University staff and students protested outside Legco before the meeting. The principal assistant secretary for education and manpower, Irene Young Bik-kwan, maintained that the government wanted to let the market decide what types of courses institutions should offer. The government also faced tight financial resources, added Peter Cheung Po-tak, secretary-general of the University Grants Committee. But legislator Yeung Yiu-chung said it was important to maintain government-funded programmes as they set the benchmarks for course providers. At the same time, legislator Szeto Wah questioned the commitment of City University management, led by president Chang Hsin-kang, to associate degree programmes. 'Has the management sought to turn the tide and strive for government support for those programmes?' he asked. Mr Szeto was responding to a staff action group, which accused the university leadership of mismanagement and autocracy. The group said the City University management should not have issued a press statement announcing the university's plan to stop running the 13 courses without consulting staff and before the university's senate and council had made any decision on the future of the courses. Professor Chang did not turn up for yesterday's meeting of the education panel. Fung Wai-wah, deputy convenor of City University's Save the College Action Group, said it was unfair that students who failed to get into university should pay higher tuition fees and suffer a heavy financial burden by taking self-financed sub-degree courses.