New plan needs cash injection to bring adults back to education, say legislators Legislators have called on the government to step up financial aid for adults who go back to school to take evening classes for HKCEE, A-level and other qualifications under a new scheme due to be launched in September. The Education and Manpower Bureau's (EMB) planned three-year, $36 million financial assistance programme for adult learners will provide subsidies for 3,600 adults to attend classes at up to 10 secondary schools across the territory. They will be run by non-profit organisations contracted by the government after the last publicly-funded classes end in August. The classes will supplant an adult education programme run for the government by two contractors over the last two years that has failed to replace publicly-funded evening classes with self-financing ones offering subsidised tuition for needy learners. The contractors, who include school-sponsoring body Po Lueng Kuk, were meant to gradually replace 100 publicly-funded classes. But they were required to provide the subsidised tuition themselves and were faced with raising fees to meet the cost. Fewer than 20 self-financing courses have been set up, while enrolment in evening courses has plunged from 6,800 to 1,500 over the two years, according to EMB figures. Cheung Man-kwong, legislator for the education sector, told Legco's education panel this week that the EMB had a $3.8 billion budget surplus which was due to be returned to the treasury. 'Why don't we use that outstanding balance for subvention of adult learners?' he said. 'Why are you only considering $12 million assistance? Why are you so harsh on them?' He said the Permanent Secretary for Education and Manpower, Fanny Law Fan Chui-fun, had pledged that out-sourcing adult education would not lead to a sudden drop in the number of adult learners but that this had happened because fees had gone up. Junior secondary classes for adults, which had been free in the past, now cost $6,000 and the cost of senior secondary classes had risen by $2,000 to more than $9,000. Legislator Dr Fernando Cheung Chiu-hung said: 'Evening secondary courses are very important. They are a way for the disadvantaged to have a second chance.' But he said the government would effectively cut the ladder of opportunity for some disadvantaged groups because it was not providing fee assistance for junior secondary courses under the plans. And the income threshold for full subsidy - $8,000 for a family of four - was 'on the low side'. Legislator Lee Cheuk-yan said: 'These people have to work five days a week and they have to take courses in the evening. We should expand the financial assistance to also cover junior secondary and the tuition fee should also be lowered.' Panel chairman Yeung Yiu-chung called on officials to amend their proposals in the light of members' criticisms and circulate them to everyone on the panel before seeking approval from the Finance Committee in May. If legislators were not satisfied with the changes they would call a special meeting to discuss the proposals further, he said. Betty Ip Tsang Chui-hing, Principal Assistant Secretary (School Administration and Support), said after the meeting that evening classes in schools were just part of a wide range of adult education courses supported by the EMB. The government favoured greater uptake of more vocational alternatives such as Project Yi Jin but was retaining some traditional evening classes in schools supported by financial aid because of demand from adult learners. Under the proposals, all adult learners would receive a subsidy of 30 per cent of course fees and people facing financial hardship would receive full fee remission. Learners would have to attend 80 per cent of classes to receive the subsidy, which would be paid after they completed the course. Fees on publicly-funded courses are currently $1,220 per year for HKCEEs and $1,620 per year for A-levels.