A mainland education official has called on Hong Kong to lower university fees for mainland students to help break down barriers between students from both sides of the border. 'Mainland students studying in Hong Kong pay probably double the tuition fees of local students,' Cao Guoxing , director-general of the Ministry of Education's department of international co-operation and exchanges, said yesterday. 'We hope the Hong Kong government can implement equal charges for mainland students. '[Hong Kong universities] enrol up to 100 mainland students a year. The students pay between 60,000 yuan and 70,000 yuan a year in some programmes, but local students are charged between 30,000 and 40,000 yuan.' He said he understood that costs were higher in Hong Kong and that universities had to budget to recruit overseas students, including those from the mainland. 'The Hong Kong government should increase education expenditure; and the universities could provide some scholarships or subsidies to help mainland students from poor families,' Mr Cao said. The ministry announced in February that from the autumn semester, mainland universities and research institutes would charge Hong Kong students the same as their mainland counterparts, effectively halving their tuition fees. 'The change was made in response to the years of calls by many Hong Kong delegates to the National People's Congress and the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference,' Mr Cao said. 'We are negotiating with Hong Kong educational organisations and hope Hong Kong can give us the same treatment.' China Scholarship Council general secretary Zhang Xiuqin said the council was discussing whether Hong Kong students could apply to the state for scholarships to finance their overseas study.