Panel tells bureau not to be tight-fisted Lawmakers this week accused education officials of taking a penny-pinching approach to funding continuing education as they pushed for evening schools for adult learners to be made free of charge. 'Let's not be misers any more. Education is a good investment,' Civic Party legislator Fernando Cheung Chiu-hung said. 'I don't see any point in continuing this discussion. I think it's ridiculous.' The calls came in a meeting of the Legislative Council education panel on Wednesday, which looked at an Education Bureau's proposal to increase the scope of an existing scheme giving financial support to adult evening school students. Under the scheme, students are able to claim back 30 per cent of fees for senior-secondary courses. The bureau plans to extend that to cover junior-secondary and raise the level of funding to 50 per cent of fees. But legislators from across the political spectrum pressed the bureau to go a step further and fund the full cost of these classes. As there were only a small number of students taking evening classes, the difference in cost to the government would be 'insignificant', they argued. 'This is really not too much to ask. It is the difference between HK$3 million and HK$7 million [a year],' Democrat Cheung Man-kwong said. 'This is such a small sum nowadays. This would be money well spent.' The bureau's paper showed that about 5,000 adult learners took secondary school courses in evening schools each year over the past three years, but just 20 per cent of those were eligible for financial assistance. Panel members stressed that evening classes had an important role to play in enabling under- educated members of society to gain a foothold on the social ladder - particularly since the government this year extended children's right to free education from nine years to 12. 'There is still a demand for this education. It gives adults a second chance,' said Tam Yiu-chung of the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong. 'But the tuition fees are a heavy burden for low-income earners.' Lee Cheuk-yan, of the Confederation of Trade Unions, said the extension of free schooling to the end of secondary school would drive increased demand for continuing education among low-skilled workers. 'The HKCEEs will become the minimum requirement,' he said. 'If you don't have a secondary school certificate then you won't be able to get a job at all. The policy of 12 years' free education should also benefit adults.' However, Deputy Secretary for Education Michael Wong Wai-lun said he was reluctant to alter the proposals before submitting them to the Finance Committee next month. 'In the long term we will consider that but I cannot make the decision right now,' Mr Wong said. He said the bureau was keen to have its proposals passed quickly so they could be implemented in time for the next academic year. But he came under fire from a number of legislators who said this seemed to be presenting them with an all-or-nothing choice. 'Why is there no room in between? We are forced to have no choice,' said Leung Yiu-chung of The Frontier. Panel members declined to sanction the bureau's proposals. They told officials to consider their demands and submit revised plans ahead of the Finance Committee meeting. 'I am more than happy to have another meeting,' said Civic Party leader Audrey Eu Yuet-mee. 'They need to give us a clear answer.'