As cuts loom, vested interests target a service for which they can see little value or believe can be provided locally The government and the Professional Teachers' Union (PTU) have defended the Native English-speaking Teacher (NET) scheme after several educators suggested it should be a target for spending cuts during Monday's education panel meeting in the Legislative Council. Education and Manpower Bureau (EMB) deputy secretary Chris Wardlaw, who oversees the scheme, said the majority of schools were benefiting from NET teachers and it should continue. 'The NET scheme provides an additional support in English teaching and developing the English language curriculum, and most schools are appreciative of that,' Mr Wardlaw said. 'There may be a few schools that don't thoroughly understand its role, but the scheme must go on.' The EMB has launched its recruitment drive for 150 more NETs for the next academic year for both secondary and primary schools. But the new teachers will be offered 3 per cent less pay than last year, in line with the civil service pay cut to be implemented in January. Mr Wardlaw's support for the scheme was backed by the PTU and its president, Cheung Man-kwong. 'I don't agree with the idea that NETs should be cut. They are important to Hong Kong if it wants to be an international city. There needs to be more NETs,' he said. They had co-operated well with local teachers to help enhance English standards, he added. But English secondary teacher James Hon Lin-Shan called for a review of the NET scheme, which costs about $500 million a year. 'There is not much difference between local and NET teachers in their teaching ability,' he said. 'NETs may benefit schools by bringing in more new teaching methods, but we have many creative local teachers too. We need to have an objective and systematic mechanism to evaluate NET teachers' performance to see what to do with the scheme.' Hong Kong Subsidised Secondary Schools Council chairman Anissa Chan Wong Lai-kuen said NETs were helpful in sharing their international teaching experience but the government should consider further cutting their allowances. But NETs are already angry at the recent 20 per cent cut in their monthly allowances, from $13,000 to $10,561. Craig Bowell, who teaches in Aberdeen, said it was 'blatantly discriminatory and unfair'. 'We are not eligible for promotion, despite our expertise and qualifications, nor are our dependants entitled to work,' he said. 'The allowance goes some way to compensate these things as well as housing expenses. To cut it is, in fact, an additional wage cut.' Native English-speaking Teachers Association president Adam Rekrut also warned that further cuts in their allowances would drive NETs away. 'Hong Kong will become a less attractive option for prospective teachers when recruitment starts next spring,' he said. Mr Wardlaw said that the EMB was not considering further benefits cuts in the near future, but maintained the reduction had been reasonable because of the economic situation. 'Everyone should share the burden of the financial deficit. I would be surprised if any NET would consider not teaching in Hong Kong simply because of the money,' he said. 'We've got a long waiting list, which proves our package remains competitive.'