Arthur Li promises he will present the case not to reduce funds to financial secretary as students plan boycott The Secretary for Education and Manpower, Arthur Li Kwok-cheung, yesterday pledged to try to persuade Financial Secretary Henry Tang Ying-yen not to cut the education budget substantially. His pledge came as half of the 8,000 degree students at Polytechnic University prepare to boycott classes next Tuesday in protest against predicted heavy budget cuts for universities from 2005 to 2008. Speculation is rife about a double-digit cut in university funding during that period, on top of a 10 per cent reduction already announced for next year. But Professor Li said yesterday no final decision had been made. 'I am still discussing the future budget with the financial secretary,' he said. 'But we have to be realistic. There is a financial crisis in Hong Kong in terms of the budget deficit. 'The financial secretary is trying to do a very good job of balancing the budget. But we also have strong reasons to tell him and the public that investment in education is important.' Professor Li expressed regret at the students' planned boycott. 'There are many people who want to study but do not have the chance to. But I also understand the students' frustration. They are free to do what they want,' he said. Polytechnic University Student Union president Ray Or Pok-man said half of the 8,000 degree students at the university would boycott classes next Tuesday. He also expects 1,000 students from all universities to join a demonstration to be held on the campus on the same day. Student representatives from all eight government-funded tertiary institutions will discuss the budget issue at a meeting with the financial secretary tomorrow. The Hong Kong Federation of Students and the Polytechnic University Student Union have also called on Professor Li to meet them. 'The government, especially Professor Li, has been turning a deaf ear to our angry voices. The strike is the last resort to make ourselves heard,' Mr Or said. 'With all the anger in the universities, I can't see any excuse for Professor Li to avoid talking to students on the budget issues.' He warned of a prolonged boycott of classes and further action if the government refused to stop slashing university funding. The chairman of the Polytechnic University Staff Association, Chan Chun-wah, said university staff at various universities would consider joining the strike. 'We have always supported our students in opposing the budget cut,' Dr Chan said. 'I hope the government will stop imposing its will on universities and destroying the quality of our education.' Students at City University are also planning to have a strike next week, but not on the same day as Polytechnic University students. Kenny Tsang Ka-yin, president of City University Student Union, said they would hold a signature campaign on the day Polytechnic University students went on strike. 'We have the right to feel angry about the budget cut in education,' he said. 'The government just can't ignore our anger or it will have to pay a price.' The University of Hong Kong's Student Union said it would discuss the protests tonight. But the union's president, Raymond Mak Ka-chun, said HKU students would not join next week's strike because there had only been limited discussion of the issue on campus. Meanwhile, Professor Li said he would only meet students if they had new ideas to offer on doing more with less resources. 'What is the point of meeting them if they are only going to tell me education is important and there should not be budget cuts?' he said. He said universities could share the burden of budget cuts.