More than 1,000 staff and students at the University of Science and Technology have signed a petition demanding a university-wide referendum on the proposed merger between HKUST and the Chinese University of Hong Kong. The vast majority of the faculty of about 400 signed within a day after the e-mail petition was distributed. Their plea came as a special working group under the University Grants Committee was due to meet the university's senate and a specially-formed reference group to discuss the issue next Friday. It will visit CUHK next week. The reference group is headed by HKUST council chairman John Chan Cho-chak and comprises its president, Paul Chu Ching-wu, three vice-presidents, appointed faculty, council and student members and alumni. The petition demands that the views of the university community be sought instead of consultation confined to meetings with selected staff, student and alumni representatives. One of the three faculty members who had been asked but declined to join the reference group, Professor Leonard Cheng Kwok-hon from the School of Business and Management, asked: 'How can it ensure that it will get to hear all the different views in the university?'' In an e-mail to staff late this week, Professor Chu asked each of the four schools in the university to elect one faculty member to serve on the group. One staff member said that would still leave the elected members outnumbered by the appointed ones. The UGC is expected to submit recommendations by January.