Arthur Li vows planned reduction will proceed only if another downturn occurs Education chief Arthur Li Kwok-cheung has promised not to slash the university budget if the economic recovery remains steady over the next three years. Professor Li said the government would proceed with cuts of up to 5 per cent in 2007-08 only if there was another economic downturn. 'We do not wish to further cut university funding,' he said on an RTHK radio show yesterday. 'The final decision on the budget for 2007 to 2008 will be announced in 2006, when we can make a reasonable economic forecast.' The government has proposed a so-called '0-0-X' funding plan for this year to 2008, with University Grants Committee cuts of zero for the first two years and a maximum of 5 per cent in the final year. A much higher cut of 33 per cent is proposed for the Hong Kong Institute of Education (HKIEd) in 2007. But Professor Li was forced to postpone the proposal last week after a unanimous vote against it by the Legislative Council's education panel. Professor Li is expected to submit a revised document soon. He reiterated yesterday that the HKIEd could obtain money from the Education and Manpower Bureau even though the University Grants Committee sought to cut its funding. '[The committee] is justified in reducing its funding for HKIEd because the number of its students will be falling over the next few years,' Professor Li said. 'However, the HKIEd may look to the bureau for alternative ways in getting financial resources. For example, the bureau had set up a $5.5 billion fund for professional development of teachers and the HKIEd, which has proposed several projects, has already been granted $25 million.' Professor Li urged legislators to make sensible decisions. 'I hope that legislators will understand that if we don't pass the budget, the government will not be able to subsidise universities. 'And I hope that they will not set their eyes only on politics and ignore reasons, rules and principles. Otherwise there will be serious problems.' Shum Kar-ping, chairman of the Federation of Higher Education Staff Associations, did not trust Professor Li's promise that the budget reduction would be less than 5 per cent. 'If he is sincere about this, he should have mentioned it in Legco,' said Mr Shum. 'I think it is just a trick to win votes for his proposed budget. 'To make his pledge more convincing, he should propose a zero reduction budget for the next three years instead of 0-0-X. And we will then accept that the budget would be reviewed and adjusted in 2006 based on the economic situation in Hong Kong.' Legislator Cheung Man-kwong, who is also president of the Professional Teachers' Union, said the Democratic Party would not support the proposed budget. 'Universities have already undergone a 10 per cent budget cut last year, and there should be no further reduction. We don't accept a 0-0-X proposal.' Following a meeting with the University Grants Committee last night, Heads of Universities Committee convenor Paul Morris said all universities were working with the government to lessen the impact of cuts. He said the HKIEd, of which he is president, would seek alternative funding.