Education secretary admits 18pc rule on fees is still in force Legislators have accused Professor Arthur Li Kwok-cheung of breaching Executive Council policy after he admitted an 18 per cent limit on recovering university costs through tuition fees still applies. The Secretary for Education and Manpower presented a breakdown of costs, tuition fees and cost recovery rates for student places to the Legislative Council's education panel on Monday in response to a question by education constituency legislator Cheung Man-kwong. Mr Cheung had demanded to know whether Professor Li would ask universities to reduce their fees and refund students after a report in the South China Morning Post that they had been overcharged $691 million in tuition fees. The government adopted a policy in the 1990s that undergraduate tuition fees should amount to 18 per cent of the costs. But fees have remained at $42,100 since 2001 despite a drop of 11.9 per cent in course costs over the period. As a result, individual students were overcharged by up to $5,200 per year, amounting to a total of $691 million over five years, although education chiefs have previously countered that the 18 per cent rule was not binding. Professor Li told the panel that the government had made large cash injections into higher education in recent years, notably $2 billion in matching grants, which meant universities' resources had increased - despite the reduction in recurrent funding of course costs. 'More importantly, the government has provided financial assistance for needy students and there are no students who have lost out on their education due to a lack of funds,' he said. But Mr Cheung said that the matching grant could be used for capital spending on buildings and therefore should not be counted because the cost recovery figure included only recurrent funding. The government had breached Exco's policy that fee recovery should amount to 18 per cent and therefore should reduce tuition fees next year. 'If they have overcharged and that is based on recurrent costs then they have breached the policy and there must be students who could seek a judicial review,' he said. After he was repeatedly pressed by legislators, Professor Li admitted the 18 per cent policy was still in force. 'I say it exists, yes, because our calculation method is to use 18 per cent of recurrent costs but universities can adjust upwards or downwards their tuition fee,' he said. 'When they set the policy, there were no other grants. We now have other forms of grants and so we comply with the 18 per cent.' Panel chairman Dr Yeung Sum told education chiefs to prepare a report for the panel outlining the government's current policy on cost-recovery based on the 18 per cent rule and spell out any change in the calculation method used.