More universities to join protest over funding after meeting with government officials fails to satisfy student demands The standoff between the government and Hong Kong's tertiary institutions over pending budget cuts escalated last night, with more universities deciding to join a planned boycott of classes next week. After an unsuccessful meeting with Financial Secretary Henry Tang Ying-yen, student leaders from Baptist University and the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology decided to join an earlier announced student 'strike' at Polytechnic University and City University next week. The meeting came as university chiefs confirmed that funding could be slashed a further 30 per cent from 2005 to 2008 - on top of a 10 per cent cut next year - and a day after universities issued a joint statement opposing funding cuts. Twenty-four student representatives from all eight government-funded tertiary institutions attended the 90-minute meeting with Mr Tang, Permanent Secretary for Education and Manpower Fanny Law Fan Chiu-fun and Secretary for Financial Services and the Treasury Frederick Ma Si-hang. But the students were disappointed that the education chief, Arthur Li Kwok-cheung, did not turn up for the meeting as requested. They were also angry at Mr Tang's failure to guarantee they would be consulted on future funding allocation for universities. 'We are very disappointed that Professor Li did not turn up. He is the one who can answer our questions about the future budget plans for universities,' said Cheng Cheuk-him, spokesman for the Hong Kong Federation of Students and external vice-president of the CityU Student Union. 'We want to make sure that students' voices are heard before a decision is made,' he said. 'Universities should share the burden of the budget deficit but the extent of the cut should be decided following consultation and not imposed top down.'' Mr Cheng warned the students might take further action should Professor Li ignore their request for a meeting or fail to address their concerns. After the meeting, Mr Tang maintained that the government considered education as an investment for the future of Hong Kong. Earlier, he said the cut in the education budget would be below the 11 per cent targeted for public spending over the next five years. But yesterday he did not tell the students specifically how much the education budget would be cut, except to say all sectors had to work towards balancing the deficit. He suggested the students submit some of their questions in writing so he could pass them on to the Education and Manpower Bureau. 'I have explained to students our policy on public spending. But I could not possibly answer their questions relating to certain institutions or educational issues.' Kelvin Chan Yik, president of HKUST Student Union, said: 'There should not be further cuts on top of next year's reduction. Students do not want to go on strike but we want to have open discussions with the government over its future plans. Nothing is more damaging than an uncertain future.' The student leaders said additional cuts in 2005-2008 would deal an excessive blow to universities. Ray Or Pok-man, a student leader at PolyU, is expecting more than 1,000 students from his university to join the strike on Tuesday. He said the university's staff association had expressed support for students' action. CityU students will boycott classes on Wednesday, while Baptist and HKUST have yet to decide when they will strike. The four other universities represented at last night's meeting have not decided on any action.